As depositions of Newhouse Publishing's ownership approaches, their lawyers have filed a motion requesting an attorneys-only meeting with the judge in order to limit the parameters of what can be asked and what documents will be provided in former Mobile Press-Register Publisher Howard Bronson's suit against his former employer.
In a motion filed in Mobile County Circuit Court Oct. 6, attorney Cecily Kaffer has asked Judge Michael Youngpeter to, among other things, identify "the proper issues and subject matter for discovery," impose "a limit on the volume of discovery that may be conducted" and a "maximum number of requests for production of documents." The motion also seeks to have Youngpeter limit numbers of subpoenas issued by Bronson's attorneys and to place time limits on depositions. It seeks to have this meeting with Youngpeter before a scheduled deposition of Newhouse's top management, including members of the Newhouse family, on Oct. 25.
Bronson filed suit against the Press-Register in September of last year claiming he was dumped from his job of 17 years and quickly replaced by current publisher Ricky Mathews. Bronson's suit centers around the famed "Newhouse Pledge," which stated that employees wouldn't be terminated because of economic circumstances. The pledge appeared in the employee handbooks of Newhouse-owned newspapers.
However, the pledge was discontinued early this year due to the nationwide economic downturn.
Bronson's attorney Vince Kilborn says Newhouse's latest motion is an attempt to limit the scope of what information Bronson may seek in the case - something he says is ironic coming from a media company that thrives on information.
"The interesting thing is when it comes to everyone else it's all public information. When it comes to one of America's richest media empires, it's all secret," Kilborn said.
Additionally Kilborn says Newhouse has only produced 225 documents out of the thousands asked for, often claiming difficulty getting the electronic ones. He said most of the documents that have been produced are from Bronson's personnel file.
"In the Volkert case I bet we had 100,000 documents by this time," Kilborn said referring to a more recent high-profile civil case.
"It's a culture of privacy. They all sit up there in the Conde Nast Building on Times Square," he said of the Newhouse family which owns Advance Publication and ultimately the Press-Register and more than 20 other newspapers across the United States.
In response to the Newhouse motion, Kilborn's firm has filed a motion for sanctions to be placed on the Press-Register and Newhouse for failing to provide information requested in the case. In the motion it mentions there had been a hearing Aug. 27 in order to compel Newhouse to provide the information, especially electronic information that includes e-mails, and that Newhouse had agreed to do so. Kilborn's motion claims those promises were not met.
"The Defendants have yet to provide the responsive ESI materials and information some six weeks since their representations to the Court, and refused until today to serve their responses to the August 13 second set of discovery requests only after the Court entered an Order compelling them to respond," it reads.
Kilborn believes the failure to comply with requests for information is indicative of an overall dismissive attitude towards Bronson's case.
"I don't think they take this case seriously, and I don't think they took the pledge seriously," he said. "They think it's kind of a nuisance."
The Newhouse/Press-Register motion blames its lack of response on what they claim is an effort by Bronson to badger members of the organization not pertinent to the case and also to publicly embarrass the company.
"Bronson has pursued patently impermissible deposition questions and requests for production of documents related to the personal lives of witnesses. Bronson has engaged in a nationwide discovery campaign unbounded by any limitation on the scope or extent of permissible discovery. Bronson has pursued discovery facially intended to subject the defendants and non-parties to 'embarrassment, oppression [and] undue burden [and] expense,' the motion reads.
Attempts to get a comment for this story from Kaffer, the Press-Register's attorney, went unanswered. An e-mail to Press-Register Publisher Ricky Mathews drew little more information.
"We do not comment on ongoing litigation," Mathews responded.
Kilborn says one of the important things about this case is the precedent it could set for the employees who may lose or did lose jobs due to economic downturn. He believes it opens Newhouse to more suits.
In discussing the case Kilborn also questioned what he sees as a company-wide hypocrisy concerning the case. First the Press-Register reported on its front page that Mathews had been hired and that Bronson willingly retired, essentially misleading its readership. The pledge - a promise not to fire employees when times got tough - was ended when times got tough, and the Press-Register has not covered Bronson's lawsuit at all.
Kilborn argued that were it another large, powerful local company being sued by the man who had led it for 17 years, it would be reported by the Press-Register.
"Important civil cases should be covered by the press," he said.
Mathews did not answer an e-mail asking why the Press-Register has chosen not to cover the case.
The case is scheduled to go to court April 9, but Bronson's attorneys believe it will be unlikely to meet that
date. They say that on Oct. 15 the Newhouses attempted to cancel the scheduled Oct. 26 deposition of Don, Michael and Steven Newhouse.