The trial in T.J. Simers versus the Los Angeles Times has reached the cross-examination of the plaintiff phase, with Simers testifying yesterday that he was not given critical performance reviews before receiving a “final written warning” that threatened his termination in August 2013, months after he suffered a mini-stroke while covering the Angels. The Times lawyer suggested that the sports columnist had been dinged repeatedly on the tone and content of his columns, and had been asked to improve his grammar. “I would say God bless all the copy editors we pay money to to review my columns,” Simers quipped per Law360, a pay site which is covering the trial.
Simers is asking for $18 million in damages, alleging that the Times tried to force him out over his age and the stroke, ginning up a false ethics complaint over a gimmicky video he and his daughter shot with NBA star Dwight Howard, under the auspices of a production company that was in talks to develop a show involving Simers. Simers says his bosses knew about and approved the video, and the retired sports editor of the paper, Mike James, testified that he had informed his bosses about the video. Tom Lasorda is among the figures who have also testified, and Simers' witness list includes a range of figures from Joe Torre to Steve Soboroff and Times editor Davan Maharaj. Simers also has alleged that he was forced out of to silence his criticism of Angels owner Arte Moreno and then-Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, who he calls a friend of then-Times publisher Eddy Hartenstein.
The Times position is that Simers was never fired or forced to leave, and that being asked to write fewer columns a week did not qualify as a big demotion. Simers said he was told he could only stay if he accepted demotion to reporter and admitted an ethical breach in the Howard video. Simers left the paper on his own and went to the Register, the LAT's competitor in Orange County.
The trial has by most accounts been rather entertaining for those watching. Simers has gotten off some good lines, and last week a psychologist for the Times testified that the columnist known for his acerbic treatment of athletes scored “very high” for paranoia in psychological testing. Psychologist Francine B. Kulick said she conducted a three-hour clinical interview with Simers and applied a Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, or MMPI, a standardized test used in forensic psychology. From Law360:
Kulick said the computer report generated by Simers' responses to the MMPI questions indicted that he is “overly sensitive to criticism” and “lacking in insight.”
“He scored a six on the MMPI paranoia scale, which indicates someone who is angry, resentful ... and blames others for their problems,” she said. “He may not always pull from situations what's actually happening.”
People with this pattern of results on the MMPI often are “self centered and have hurt feelings,” Kulick added.
Simers' own psychiatrist testified as well, and Simers told the jury that after the suspected stroke he found focus and conversation difficult and said that he would frequently retreat to the media room at sports events. "My head was just one big noise," Simers said, per a story in Courthouse News, which also is covering the trial.
From earlier in the trial:
At a May 2013 meeting, James - acting on instructions from Times management - told Simers that his three weekly columns would be reduced to two after Simers wrote a column that was critical of Anaheim Angels owner Arte Moreno.
Simers' complaint suggests the Times was swayed because the Angels had bought ad space on the Times website. But James said that Times management had pointed to flaws of logic in the column and reduced Simers' workload to improve the quality of his output.
Another source of controversy stemmed from the Mattel Children's Charity, which Simers contributed to and wrote about in his columns.
James testified that Times management was concerned what would happen if something "untoward" happened at the charity and it was connected to the paper.
The editor noted that the sports department was looking to expand its original content online as the audience for its print edition shrank but that Simers was resistant.
"He was less enthusiastic about writing on the web than writing for the newspaper," James said.
Interesting stat from Courthouse News: Simers reportedly made $234,000 a year at the Times. He collected a salary of $190,000 at the Register, the court has heard.