Thursday, May 28, 2009

Plenty of Good Seats Are Still Available

Wednesday's proceedings in the NLRB vs. News-Press trial were largely uneventful. At least during the short while that I was there.

In fact, if it's pyrotechnics that one is seeking, you figure to have been far better off attending Wednesday night's board meeting of the Carpinteria Water District, where the customers of the District are reportedly in full-on revolt over the hike in the rates they are looking at.

Given the threatened increases, the price of water in Carpinteria is fast-approaching the cost of a bottle of a good Malbec in Buenos Aires. Well, almost.

But back to the News-Press hearing.

Unlike the trial of two years ago, anyone who wanders into the hearing room might get the impression that this is an invitation only affair. On Wednesday afternoon I was the only observer sitting in the audience. There were no other reporters, bloggers or even the occasional homeless person who might have stumbled in in search of a quiet place to grab a quick nap.

On the witness stand was "Angel of Death" Yolanda Apodaca, the paper's human resources director. She was testifying on the issue of why the paper suddenly stopped granting merit increases and bonuses in 2006, the same year that newsroom employees voted to unionize.

The NLRB is alleging that the motive for putting a stop to pay increases was to punish members of the union. The News-Press denies the charge.

Apodaca wasn't on the stand for long. Only 15 minutes, if that, in the afternoon and reportedly only for about an hour in the morning. Fired News-Press employees are wishing they had seen so little of her.

Next to take the stand was fired reporter Melinda Burns. A staff writer at the paper since 1985, the News-Press maintains that she was terminated for bias when they cut her loose in October of 2006. Another administrative law judge found otherwise when he determined that she was shown the door because of her union activities.

Under questioning by Joanna Silverman, one of the attorneys for the NLRB, Burns testifies that she was a senior writer covering regional affairs and environment making $27.45 an hour at the time she was fired. That works out to about $57,000 a year. Far less than the $75,000 the News-Press was paying gossip columnist Richard Mineards.

So, on a ho-hum day, does anything stand out in this hearing?

Well, I did notice that News-Press attorney Barry Cappello and his co-counsel Dugan Kelley were wearing nearly identical suits. I wonder if they got the volume discount for their firm?

And speaking of sartorial splendor, Judge Clifford Anderson was sporting bright red suspenders (or braces as Larry King would call them) under his jacket.

So far I've been impressed with Anderson's demeanor, intellect and presence in the courtroom. It's early yet, but even if the hearing fails to get theatrical it seems guaranteed to be fair.

Corrections. In yesterday's post I misidentified the journalist who was covering the hearing for the Ventura County Reporter. He was David Courtland, not Bill Lascher. My apologies to both.

And News-Press attorney Michael Zinser is from Nashville, not Memphis.

Well, at least I was in the right state.
© 2009 by Craig Smith and