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Attorney Barry Cappello Sues Santa Barbara News-Press Entities Over Unpaid Fees

Cappello & Noël's lawsuit against Ampersand Publishing seeks $526,224 in unpaid fees and interest and $200,000 in damages

The Santa Barbara law firm of Cappello & Noël is suing Santa Barbara News-Press owner Wendy McCaw’s Ampersand Publishing, the newspaper’s parent company, and related trusts for breach of contract, alleging they owe more than $500,000 in attorney fees, expenses and interest.

The civil suit, filed Tuesday in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, alleges that money is due from contracts signed between the law firm and Ampersand and other entities connected to McCaw: Georgetown Interstate Aviation Inc., Pescadero Point Trust and Stanford Farms Trust.

The lawsuit also names the newspaper’s accountant, Norman Colavincenzo, because of his role as trustee for the two trusts, and what the suit claims was his personal “intentional” and “negligent misrepresentation” to Cappello & Noël.

Each agreement for legal services on retainer — signed in 2007, 2008 and 2009 — specified an hourly rate per employee, and established that the client would be billed monthly for work and expenses, which would gain interest if not paid, according to the lawsuit.

Through April 17, 2012, Cappello & Noël is owed $526,224.81 total in fees and interest, according to the complaint. Almost all of that — $411,933.27 — is due from Ampersand, the complaint states.

Until he was replaced earlier this year, attorney Barry Cappello had represented Ampersand in numerous matters following what has become known locally as the “News-Press meltdown” — the 2006 mass resignations by News-Press editors and reporters who accused McCaw of violating journalism ethics by meddling in newsroom operations. McCaw bought the publication from The New York Times Co. in 2000.

Cappello & Noël’s complaint includes 22 cases, including civil suits filed against the Santa Barbara Independent, former employees Dawn Hobbs and Jerry Roberts, and journalist Susan Paterno. Cappello was replaced in the appeal for the suit against Roberts, in which the former editor was awarded about $1 million in attorney’s fees and arbitration costs.

In the complaint, Cappello alleges that Colavincenzo falsely represented information — that McCaw accepted the higher rates of having Cappello himself work on the civil case against Hobbs, and would promptly pay for those costs. Cappello’s rate is about $600 per hour, about $150 per hour more than his partner, Leila Noël, and almost double the next highest-paid person at the firm.

McCaw hadn’t agreed to pay outstanding bills, the complaint alleges, nor had she accepted Cappello’s recommendations regarding a settlement or approved of the proposed Hobbs trial budget.

Colavincenzo was McCaw’s representative for the trial, and those representations “were made with the intent to defraud and deceive,” the complaint states.

Cappello & Noël wants about $200,000 in damages for what it claims was Colavincenzo’s “negligent misrepresentation,” in addition to the unpaid bills.

No court documents have yet been filed in response to the complaint.

Calls and emails to the Santa Barbara News-Press for comment were not returned.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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