LOS ANGELES (CN) – The trial of former Los Angeles Times sports columnist T.J. Simers continued Wednesday, in which the retired writer seeks an estimated $18 million in damages for being allegedly fired from the paper in 2013.
Simers, 65, sued the Times two years ago claiming the paper had fired him after he suffered a “mini-stroke” and the true reason for his termination was “his age, his disability, and his medical leave.”
After the parties failed to settle the case, a jury trial in Superior Court Judge William MacLaughlin’s courtroom began last week and continued on Wednesday morning with testimony from former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda.
The 88-year-old’s deadpan delivery led to frequent laughter from the jury box and gallery before he vacated the stand for Mike James, the sports editor who was Simers’ direct supervisor at the Times.
A witness list filed on Aug. 21 and obtained by Courthouse News states that former boxer Oscar De La Hoya, Tribune Publishing chairman Eddy Hartenstein, and UCLA football coach Jim Mora are expected to testify during the six-week jury trial. Current LA Times staffers and editors will also take the stand.
James told the court that he had experienced a few “confrontational moments” with the writer but added that most of their disagreements ended in a “positive way.”
“Mr. Simers was difficult to deal with at some times,” James said.
The Times’ attorney Linda Savitt of Glendale firm Ballard Rosenberg Golper & Savitt tried to establish that there had been issues with Simers’ writing and conduct months before he collapsed in his hotel room in Phoenix, Arizona, in March 2013.
Simers sued the Times and its corporate parent Tribune in October of that year. Times editors Marc Duvoisin and Davan Maharaj were also named though they have since been dismissed from the lawsuit, according to LA Observed.
After working for the Times for more than two decades, Simers says he was fired in September 2013 after he developed a medical condition called complex migraine syndrome that caused him to suffer the mini-stroke.
James testified that Simers took a few days to recover before starting to write columns again for the Times. He said that though the Times’ policy was for five days of sick pay, the sports department allowed its writers and reporters to take longer to recover because of the long hours and demands of the job.
But 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.
Simers says in his lawsuit that he was warned not to criticize then-Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt because of his association with Hartenstein, the Times’ publisher at the time.
Times management also claimed a conflict of interest when a video emerged of Simers shooting hoops with former LA Lakers basketball player Dwight Howard, and an article claiming that a TV show about Simers’ life was in the works.
Carney Shegerian with Shegerian & Associates of Santa Monica is arguing the case for Simers at trial.
Simers wrote for the Orange County Register after his alleged firing but retired his column last year.
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