Veteran journalist Jerry Roberts has donated $150,000 of his $1.1 million settlement with former employer Wendy McCaw and Ampersand Publishing to journalism organizations, per an agreement made when groups helped him raise funds in his own defense after the so-called Santa Barbara News-Press meltdown in 2006.
The money was gifted to the Society of Professional Journalists, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Mission and State, the new Knight Foundation-funded organization formerly called the Santa Barbara Journalism Initiative.
Roberts and several other News-Press journalists quit their jobs in protest in the summer of 2006 and claimed that McCaw was violating journalistic ethics with her undue involvement in newsroom operations and decisions.
McCaw countered that the journalists were biased in their reporting and editing, and were trying to usurp her rights as owner and publisher of the newspaper that she bought from The New York Times in 2000.
Roberts is owed $1.1 million from Ampersand Publishing for his legal fees and other costs. Ampersand filed a $25 million claim against Roberts in 2006 alleging defamation, breach of confidentiality and breach of fiduciary responsibility, among other things.
Roberts counter-sued alleging breach of contract and defamation. The case spanned years in courts and appeals, but judges ultimately ruled in Roberts’ favor. The state Supreme Court rejected Ampersand’s final appeal last May.
In 2007, when the Lawyers Alliance for Free Speech was created to help raise funds for Roberts’ defense, an agreement was made that if a certain amount of money was won in a settlement, a portion would be given to journalism organizations that were practicing as public trust journalism, Roberts said.
“It’s not so much for the people who gave me money,” he said, “but for those journalists who gave me 125 bucks and are now out of work or looking for work — it felt fair to do that.”
Roberts sent attorney Steve Amerikaner, who was handling the fund, a list of worthy organizations and the board of the Lawyers Alliance chose the final three.
The organizations were all rather surprised by the gifts, Roberts said.
“It was basically a fulfillment of a promise when people believed in me and made a contribution to get through the legal fight,” he said. “Having spent most of my career covering politicians … it was a hard thing to do to ask for money. When people gave it to me I was so grateful, but I just wanted to square the books.”
When Noozhawk spoke to him last week, Roberts was still in San Francisco recovering from his fourth chemotherapy treatment. He has been in the hospital since October.
He has been diagnosed with an aggressive form of lymphoma, but he said the prognosis looks pretty good.
“I’m hoping to be back in Santa Barbara in maybe mid-April, and then probably continue outpatient (rehabilitation) there,” Roberts said.