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Local News

Appeals Court Denies Reinstatement of Fired News-Press Employees

Judges rule in favor of Wendy McCaw’s Ampersand Publishing

An appeals court ruled in favor of ruled in favor of Wendy McCaw’s Ampersand Publishing LLC on Tuesday, denying an order to immediately reinstate eight fired Santa Barbara News-Press employees.

The majority opinion of James McDermott (of the National Labor Relations Board) vs. Ampersand Publishing was written by Judge Richard Clifton and supported by Judge Milan Smith Jr.

While the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals didn’t pass judgment on employee concerns regarding journalistic integrity, the opinion stated that “a responsible press is an undoubtedly desirable goal, but press responsibility is not mandated by the Constitution and, like many other virtues, it cannot be legislated.”

Mandating that certain people be hired would affect the paper’s expressive content and diminish the publisher’s First Amendment rights, according to the opinion.

“The proposed injunction is aimed at strengthening the union’s hand against the owner,” it said, “and that will impair the owner’s right to control the newspaper’s content.”

The two judges didn’t find that the plaintiff met the burden for interim relief, and found that the employees’ attempts to secure representation by the union appear to “have been to block or limit the influence of the owner and publisher of the News-Press over the content of the news sections of the paper and to focus that authority on the employees themselves, as reporters and editors.”

Judge Michael Hawkins penned the dissenting opinion, saying that rehiring the employees wouldn’t hinder the publisher’s right to free speech.

“The injunction here only seeks reinstatement for terminated employees,” he said. “Period.”

It addresses terms of employment but doesn’t touch the paper’s right to publish its desired content, he wrote.

The legal battle to reinstate the fired employees is far from over, however.

The issue of determining whether they were fired illegally is still held up in the courts. A December 2007 decision found the firings illegal, but the News-Press is appealing to the National Labor Relations Board.

McCaw purchased the News-Press from the New York Times Company in 2000. Several newsroom employees resigned in 2006 because of perceived “unethical interference” by publishers, which may have prompted others to seek union representation. Eight employees were fired in 2006 and 2007, allegedly because of this involvement, and there have been court battles since.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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