Former editor awarded more than $900,000 in fight with Santa Barbara News Press

An arbitrator has awarded $748,022 to former Santa Barbara News Press Editor Jerry Roberts to cover his legal costs in a years-long legal battle with his former employer, New Press owner Wendy McCaw, documents released Friday show.

Arbitrator Deborah Rothman rejected all claims by McCaw’s company, Ampersand Publishing, that Roberts violated his employment contract after his 2006 resignation by talking about McCaw’s alleged interference in the newsroom.

Roberts’ departure sparked an exodus of editors, reporters and photographers from the paper. Remaining editorial employees voted to bring in a union.

In her 68-page ruling, Rothman threw out Roberts’ cross-claims for wrongful termination and declined to award damages to either party.

But Rothman ordered Ampersand to pay Roberts’ legal fees of $748,022 and an additional $167,516 in arbitration costs.

Rothman made the award in October but the details remained sealed until Friday, when McCaw’s attorneys filed a motion in Santa Barbara County Superior Court to vacate the arbitrator’s decision, said Andrine Smith, Roberts’ attorney.

The arbitrator was harshly critical of McCaw’s actions in the newsroom and in dealing with Roberts.

Rothman said the evidence showed that McCaw used her wealth to engage in a “scorched-earth, take-no-prisoners, go-for-broke, leave-no stone-unturned” campaign to punish Roberts for speaking out against what he saw as improper meddling in the news gathering process.

“Mrs. McCaw is capable of great vindictiveness and appears to relish the opportunity to wield her considerable wealth and power in furtherance of what she believes to be righteous causes,” Rothman wrote.

McCaw’s attorneys were unavailable for comment.