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Ampersand seeks dismissal of arbitration

December 30, 2008 6:55 AM


News-Press parent company Ampersand Publishing LLC is seeking to have arbitration involving a former editor dismissed and the arbitrator Deborah Rothman removed, claiming she unjustly "flip-flopped" on a key ruling, deprived the parties of arbitration's ultimate goal -- timely resolution of disputes -- by missing several deadlines for issuing rulings and improperly extended the ruling by almost a year.

The case before the American Arbitration Association pertains to the employment agreement between Ampersand and Jerry Roberts, who resigned in July 2006 after four years with the newspaper.

In papers filed Monday in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, Ampersand attorneys A. Barry Cappello and Dugan Kelley petition for the removal of Ms. Rothman "for failure to act." Ampersand also seeks a rehearing of the damages and attorneys' fees phases of the arbitration "before a new, diligent arbitrator."

The hearing ended in December 2007, while post-hearing briefing ended two months later. That, according to the filing, meant Ms. Rothman was to have ruled March 20. She missed that deadline, declaring an extension to April 10. Under California law, according to Ampersand's attorneys, this caused her jurisdiction to lapse.

But on April 10, Ms. Rothman issued a ruling in favor of Ampersand in connection with Mr. Roberts' "public disclosures of internal matters at the Santa Barbara News-Press and his subsequent resignation from the paper." That award, according to the filing, found, among other things, that Mr. Roberts "breached his fiduciary duty to petitioner Ampersand."

Then on June 25, Ms. Rothman issued an interim "award," reversing herself on earlier rulings regarding liability, which, according to Ampersand, were then established and required further briefing on attorneys' fees.

On July 1 and July 3, Mr. Roberts objected to any further modification of that award, but two weeks later, Ms. Rothman issued another order doing just that.

A jurisdictional deadline to rule on August 23 came and went without movement. Then on Sept. 18, the arbitrator issued another order, again reversing herself on several grounds and, according to Ampersand, setting in motion yet another round of briefings on attorneys' fees.

Ampersand claims the September order exceeded Ms. Rothman's powers and should be considered null and void.

By allegedly failing to meet mandatory deadlines, according to Ampersand, Ms. Rothman created an unreasonable and extraordinary delay.

The court's intervention, the motion claims, is necessary "to protect Ampersand's rights and prevent the arbitrator from continuing to oversee the arbitration in excess of her powers."


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