Attorneys for former Santa Barbara News-Press editor Jerry Roberts said Wednesday that they expect, by the end of the month, to have collected a significant portion of the nearly $1.1 million in legal fees and other costs he is owed by the newspaper’s owner.
Roberts’ attorneys — Herb Fox and Bruce Hogan — said in a written statement that they are collecting judgments against Ampersand Publishing LLC “through a series of execution levies on the company’s bank accounts and advertisers.”
During a court hearing Wednesday, Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Donna Geck ordered Ampersand, which is solely owned by Wendy McCaw, to pay Roberts an additional $81,560 in legal costs, according to the attorneys.
The order for additional legal fees was related to Ampersand’s appeals of legal rulings.
“Roberts expects to have collected over $750,000 by the end of August,” Hogan said. “His real estate levy upon the News-Press building at De la Guerra Plaza continues. If any part of Roberts’ judgment remains unsatisfied at the end of October, Roberts will be able to force the sale of that property in order to satisfy the judgment.”
The hearing was the latest chapter in a long and bitter legal dispute between McCaw and Roberts.
In May, the California Supreme Court declined to review a lower court decision upholding an arbitrator’s ruling in the case.
In July 2006, Ampersand filed a $25 million arbitration claim against Roberts, alleging defamation, breach of confidentiality and breach of fiduciary responsibility, among other claims.
Roberts filed a counter claim, alleging breach of contract terms, defamation and other charges.
The dispute stemmed from what is known around Santa Barbara as the “News-Press meltdown.”
Roberts and several other News-Press journalists quit their jobs in protest in the summer of 2006, claiming that McCaw was violating journalistic ethics by unduly meddling in newsroom operations and decisions. They cited several examples of what they termed unethical behavior.
McCaw countered that the journalists were biased in their reporting and editing, and trying to usurp her rights as owner and publisher of the newspaper, which she purchased from The New York Times in 2000.
In filing the complaint, Ampersand and McCaw blamed Roberts for the bad publicity and ill effects the publication suffered in the wake of the highly public dispute, according to Fox.
In the fall of 2008, the arbitrator in the case denied the claims by both Ampersand and Roberts, but ruled that Roberts was the “prevailing party,” and awarded him $629,643 in attorneys fees, $93,058 in costs, and reimbursement of $25,320 in arbitration fees.
The case then moved into the courts, where Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge James Brown ruled against Ampersand in February 2009.
Ampersand appealed that ruling to the state’s Second District Court of Appeal, which upheld the lower court decision and the award of fees and costs to Roberts in March 2011.
The Supreme Court rejected Ampersand’s final appeal in May.
With interest and the latest order, the award to Roberts now totals nearly $1.1 million, Fox said.
Matthew Clarke, an attorney representing Ampersand, did not return a call seeking comment.
The parties are due back in court Aug. 22, Hogan said.