by David Pritchett, amateur legal analyst and journalist
While Craig Smith’s Blog and Independent’s Media Blog already have published their thorough and punchy accounts (with great photos at the Indy blog) of the legal hearing held earlier today and Episode I held yesterday about the latest chapter of The Mess, I offer my own unique perspectives here on Ampersand vs. City of Santa Barbara, which we all are learning really is just Wendy vs. Jerry. Ampersand is the corporate owner of the News-Press. http://www.west.net/~smith/blog/index.shtmlhttp://independent.com/news/2007/may/02/emnews-pressem-cant-have-child-porn-back/
I had not stepped into a Santa Barbara County Superior Court room since I was once called to a jury pool in 1984. I am far more accustomed to the exposed format of the legislative side of local government, in the County Board room or the City Council Chambers, where no one would dare restrict a camera and brandishing a wireless phone for listening and texting is standard procedure during the meetings.
Against the side wall in the court room, a projection of the Judge’s rulings as a text document was shown on a large screen. Very cool to see justice edited in real time, most unlike the City Council decisions I often watch, where the staff response to Council direction is repeatedly“we’ll get back to you.” On the big screen in the court room, several quick cases were handled prior to Ampersand, as the Judge decided what, if anything, in the preliminary rulings would be changed in the final ruling. Using his own computer on the Bench with the projector showing his computer display, Judge Brown simply deleted and added text from his preliminary ruling to make it a final ruling, and then he sent it to print for the plaintiffs and defendants to pick up their justice delivered through an inkjet. Just don’t forget to save the file, Your Honor.
The rapidly deployed reports by Craig Smith and Matt Kettmann (Indy Media Blog) earlier today (02 May) tell the facts of the court hearing well, but a series of points by the Ampersand attorney, Barry Cappello, struck me as most interesting. Early in the hearing, Cappello quickly corrected (in a nice way) the Judge when Judge James W. Brown said that the computer hard disk in question was acquired as used hardware prior to anyone at News-Press having that disk in the computer (as discussed at length all over the blogs and recent news). Cappello said (I paraphrase) that the guy who sold the disk (or the whole computer?) would write a note to the court to verify that it was a new disk. That elicited zero response from the Judge, and some smirks in the audience.
In addition, Barry Cappello argued, emphatically, that one reason that Ampersand needed the original hard disks returned was that the Santa Barbara City police investigators were not using the proper software tools to find the contraband files on the disk. Cappello said the City was using MicroSoft products, but instead should have been using Apple software to find the files.
That new tidbit of software-tools-as-the-answer may have inspired an eyebrow to raise by the Judge, but both of mine were rising at that same moment from the second row. I kept thinking about the TV commercials of the frumpy PC Guy and the hip Mac Dude quipping about how Macs are better and foolproof. Apparently, a law enforcement agency would not be capable of using Apple software, even if that really were the issue. I wondered if the quest for porn had come down to a Windows vs. Macintosh question. If the police did have MacOS, would they need Tiger or Panther? Maybe the FBI will be using Linux instead?
Further in the legal hearing, a lot of the other arguments on both sides were about which computer(s) had original hard disks, what files were on those disks, and whether the “clone” of the disks was good enough to find the contraband pornography files that were really on the original disk now sequestered as evidence to a crime. Lots of talk was about clones and Clones of the hard disk, as making such a disk clone first is standard procedure for a forensic analysis of hidden files, according to the “disk cloning” entry at Wikipedia. I kept thinking about the hip Mac dude with a light sabre decapitating some battle droids.
As I started to realize that a City Transportation and Circulation Committee was more my style of government rather than a Superior Court hearing on technical nuances of computer clonal evidence under the California Public Records Act, I was jolted alert by Cappello stating that City Attorney Steve Wiley was “grandstanding” because Wiley dared to point out that the intent of Ampersand really just might be to “tarnish the reputation” of Jerry Roberts before evidence is properly analyzed for a potential criminal case regarding illegal porn. What was Wiley thinking?!
I could not ask Wiley about that, as he evaporated from the court room upon the close of the hearing, even faster than Scott Steepleton and Travis Armstrong did. I think Steepleton had to verify if the entire population of Santa Barbara County, or at least the same number of people, actually did not visit Alameda Park last year for a May Day march.
While live cameras were prohibited in the court room, plenty of pics and vid were recorded after the half-hour hearing in the dark tile hallway outside the court. From what I could hear of it in the beautiful but acoustically impaired hallway, Ampersand’s attorney Barry Cappello seemed to be trying to convince viewers of KSBY-TV6 what he could not convince Judge James W. Brown to believe. Cappello did acknowledge, though, that the disposition of the original, non clonal, hard disk would be up the Arbitrationer.
After the KSBY interview with Cappello, independent (small I) video producer Sam Tyler assertively asked Cappello about who and how the initial News-Press “article” came about with no by-line to reveal its author in that infamous smear article against Jerry Roberts, published on the front page of News-Press on Sunday, 23 April (Happy Earth Day, Jerry!). Cappello had no comments for Sam Tyler as Barry briskly left the building.
The mood in the courthouse hallway then changed. Other interviews became a klatch gathered around Dennis Merenbach, the attorney for Jerry Roberts. The tone was a bit more relaxed and jovial, or at least that is how it felt. But what do I know, as I, like most or all of everyone else there, is part of the Cabal.
Merenbach was a smooth talker, with an ancient, highly distressed leather briefcase at his feet. The newsies who had gathered around him, both pro and amateur, were highly interested in the plans by Merenbach for pursuing a libel case against Ampersand. Of course, he revealed no strategic details, but he stressed again their demand for a retraction of the hit piece against Roberts published 10 days earlier.
One snarky (that word again!) inquisitor asked Merenbach if a front-page retraction still would be acceptable, considering how the News-Press subscriptions and readership must have plummeted since the infamous anonymous article was published 10 days prior. Others in the crowd mumbled that the retraction demanded by Roberts (through his attorney) was as likely as sit-down negotiation ever happening between News-Press management and the Teamsters.
Local news media were well represented at this whole event, both during the court hearing and the public demonstration held outside in the half-hour prior, with participation by 53 people on a Wednesday morning. Besides the now-usual blogger journos, MSM included Daily Nexus, Daily Sound, Independent, Santa Maria Times, Santa Barbara Newsroom, KJEE radio, KSBY-TV, and maybe others. KEYT-TV3 was conspicuously absent, again, on covering this latest chapter of The Mess.
The KSBY story included reporter Carina Corral acting very Matt-Cotan in her mastery of her craft as their de facto Santa Barbara Bureau Chief.http://ksby.com/Global/story.asp?S=6462241
While this News Wars saga definitely started last July with The Phantom Menace, we all should have A New Hope that the next episode is not about Revenge of the Sith but instead goes directly to the Return of the Jedi. Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope....
Labels: Jerry Roberts, Santa Barbara News-Press