T.J. Simers, a well-known former sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times, is suing the Times for age and disability discrimination and is seeking $18 million. We’re providing regular coverage and analysis of the jury trial, which is expected to last about two more weeks. For the background on what the case is all about, go here. For the testimony of Mr. Simers’ psychiatrist, go here. For a roundup of all of the first two weeks’ trial testimony (pretty interesting), go here. For last week’s testimony, go here.
Mr. Simers’ attorneys called at least two Times executives to the stand this week as adverse witnesses. One, who was the newspaper’s Human Resources director in 2013, testified that Mr. Simers lied when he told Times management that he was not having “talks” with Mandalay Sports Entertainment and was not trying to sell a script for a television sitcom starring Mr. Simers and his daughter.
The HR Director said she was asked to go through Mr. Simers’ emails to confirm or refute his denials. When she did, she found emails between Mr. Simers and the producer of the video starring Mr. Simers, his daughter, and Dwight Howard, then of the LA Lakers. She also found emails in which Mr. Simers had forwarded the sitcom script to his agent.
Afterward, she attended a meeting with Mr. Simers and two of his bosses, in which Mr. Simers allegedly said that there was “no relationship” and “no script.” “I had actually printed [the script] out,” the HR Director testified. “[I]t seemed like [Mr. Simers was telling] a direct lie.”
(I don’t mean to minimize the importance of the alleged lies, but I’m still having trouble understanding why it’s “unethical” for a newspaper columnist to do a video for charity with an NBA star and pitch a TV script. If we have any readers with background in media ethics, we’d love to hear from you on this.)
Regarding this “ethics” issue, the evidence has shown that Mr. Simers told his editor Mike James in advance that he was going to do the Howard video, and Mr. James has already testified that he was aware of it and didn’t object. This week, Marc Duvoisin, current Managing Editor for the Times, testified that Mr. Simers did not disclose to Mr. James that the video “would be used to promote” Mandalay, preventing the LA Times from disclosing that to its readers.
According to Mr. Duvoisin, as quoted in Law360, “It’s one thing for an editor to say, ‘It’s okay’ to Simers when he says he’s working on a screenplay, working on a script at home . . . that would not be permission to use the LA Times, use the newspaper or use the website, to promote something, that’s the difference. That really strikes at the heart of the integrity of what we’re trying to put together for our readers every day, and that’s why we put such emphasis on disclosure.” (Ellipsis in Law360 article.)
(Sorry, I’m still not getting the “ethics” issue, and if I ever do, I’ll stop putting “ethics” in quotation marks. If Mr. Simers were covering a news story involving Mandalay, then, yes, I would understand the importance of full disclosure. But he wasn’t. According to previous reports, the Times’ investigation ultimately concluded that there was no ethical violation.)
Mr. Duvoisin also denied Mr. Simers’ contention that he had never been criticized for his job performance before he had his “mini-stroke” in March 2013. Mr. Duvoisin testified that Mr. Simers was “a very good columnist, a valuable writer for the paper,” but said that sometimes Mr. Simers went too far and “had to be reined in. . . . sometimes he went over the line and had to be pulled back.”
Probably like when he gave that grilling to Jim Mora, head football coach for the UCLA Bruins. Remember this?
Click here to listen to the video.
And yet Mora is supposedly going to testify for Mr. Simers.
I want to hear what Coach Mora has to say!
Thanks again to Daniel Siegal of Law360 for providing the trial coverage so I don’t have to go to LA myself. (I know what you’re thinking, and you’re wrong – I love LA, but North Carolina needs me.)