The owner of the Santa Barbara News-Press has filed a legal action demanding $500,000 in damages from former editor Jerry Roberts, sources at the newspaper said.
The claim on behalf of Publisher Wendy McCaw’s Ampersand Inc. was filed with an arbitrator, as required in Roberts’ employment contract. It accuses him of breach of contract and causing damage to the News-Press.
This is the same Jerry Roberts who will be in Chicago tomorrow night, accepting the ethics award from the Society of Professional Journalists on behalf of himself and nine other former News-Press staff. McCaw reportedly tried to stop SPJ from making these awards.
Editor & Publisher this afternoon got Roberts’ reaction to McCaw’s claim:
Roberts responded this afternoon with an e-mail statement that declared, in part, “I categorically deny any wrongdoing alleged in this arbitration demand. I consider this action by the News-Press nothing more than an attempt to silence me and to threaten my family’s financial future in retaliation for speaking out about ethics at the paper.”
The News-Press also issued a statement objecting to the public release of its claim against Roberts, calling the demand for $500,000 part of a “private arbitration process.”
The Santa Barbara News-Press was disturbed that a private arbitration matter involving former employee Jerry Roberts is being discussed publicly. The News-Press has maintained the confidentiality of this proceeding in accordance with the policies of the American Arbitration Association (AAA) guidelines.
The paper suspects that details may have been leaked by Mr. Roberts or his representatives since the News-Press did not make any public disclosures about the case. It is unfortunate that the privacy of these hearings has not been upheld.
Mr. Roberts signed an employment agreement with the News-Press which included a provision that both parties would submit to binding arbitration in the event of any disputes evolving from Mr. Roberts’ employment or resignation.
As a private adjudication proceeding, the rules of the AAA are very clear. Unless the parties agree otherwise, confidentiality of the arbitration must be safeguarded by the arbitrator, the parties and their representatives. All proceedings and awards are private and confidential and releasing confidential information can undermine the arbitration process.
The Santa Barbara News-Press is fully committed to the AAA dispute resolution process to settle employment-related issues in a private, confidential manner and without extensive litigation. The paper respects the confidential nature of the arbitration and will have no further comment on this proceeding or the outcome.
I know, it’s PR 101. Whatever your position is, make it seem like the high road, like you’re upholding a value everyone shares — in this case the, harrumph, “the AAA dispute resolution process.” But, jeez, when the recipient of the third largest divorce settlement in the history of the world tries to shake down a working editor for half a million dollars, that’s hot stuff she should expect to see in the paper. If the publicity is disturbing, then back off. The demand is plainly unjust — and has a snowball’s chance.