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Jerry Roberts awarded $915,538

Former Chronicle political reporter and managing editor Jerry Roberts (pictured) has been awarded $915,538 in legal fees and arbitration costs in his dispute with the owner of the Santa Barbara News-Press, multi-millionaire Wendy McCaw, the LA Times reported today.

Arbitrator Deborah Rothman rejected all claims by McCaw’s company and, in a 68-page ruling, ordered it to pay her $748,022 in legal fees and $167,516 in arbitration costs.

Rothman said McCaw (below) 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, according to the LA Times report.

“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.

Roberts left the Chronicle in 2002 after 25 years to become managing editor of the Santa Barbara paper, but resigned in 2006, saying McCaw was meddling in the newsroom. She then sued him, saying his criticism of her violated his employment contract.

Among the allegations against McCaw is that she had a reporter and three editors disciplined for printing the address of a home “West Wing” actor Rob Lowe was planning to build — a project that had spurred protests from neighbors and had been the subject of numerous public hearings.

McCaw became rich through marriage. She got $460 million when she divorced Cingular cell phone pioneer Craig McCaw in 1997. In 2000, she bought the News-Press from The New York Times Co. and, critics claim, used it to trumpet her own causes, such as animal rights, abolishing the Coastal Commission and barring public access to beaches — at least those near her property.

When Roberts resigned, seven top newsroom staffers followed him. As public sympathy settled on the side of the departing newsroom staffers, McCaw’s Ampersand Publishing announced that they had found pornography on Roberts’ old computer. The smear fell apart, however, when it was revealed that several other people in the company had used the same computer, and that there was no way of telling who downloaded the pornography. Since the computer was purchased second-hand, it might have even been the previous owner. Roberts denied the allegations, and the matter has been dropped.

Roberts now writes a political blog, CalBuzz, with Phil Trounstine.

(Photo credits: Roberts photo, Chronicle; Wendy McCaw, Santa Barbara Independent)

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