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Journalist Grilled About Outside Projects

LOS ANGELES (CN) - A defense attorney questioned veteran journalist Frank Snepp Thursday about movie and television projects he worked on while serving as an investigative reporter, as KNBC tries to persuade a trial court that he was not wrongfully fired.

Snepp sued NBCUniversal Media and its Los Angeles affiliate KNBC-TV last year, claiming he lost his job in October 2012 after he complained about age discrimination and ageism to executives.

Earlier this week, the Emmy and Peabody award-winning journalist told the 12 members of the jury that he was "devastated" when NBC fired him and that he wanted to stay at the station until he retired.

NBC's attorney Bart Williams of Munger, Tolles & Olson questioned Snepp on Thursday morning about several movie projects he had worked on.

They included a proposal for an HBO series, a script based on his book "Irreparable Harm" - an account of his legal battles after writing an insider account of his time as a CIA operative during the Vietnam War - and a script he had penned called the "The Chinese Doctor."

Williams showed jurors several emails sent to or from Snepp's account where he discussed the projects using an NBC email account and apparently during his work hours.

But Snepp testified that though he sent emails during the work day, the attached notes and manuscripts were the cumulative result of years of work.

One April 27, 2009 email, sent from Snepp's email account to documentary filmmaker Eugene Jarecki, came from the journalist's NBC account at 12:05 p.m. and included several "scene ideas" for the "Irreparable Harm" project.

"This wasn't constructed on a lunch break, it was constructed over four or five years," Snepp told Williams, calling the adaptation his "life's work."

Snepp said that he had no hand in writing the script for "Irreparable Harm," which was written by Jesse Wigutow, and only provided notes, edits and suggestions.

In another email shown to the court Snepp wrote that he was attaching an "exploratory draft" for Wigutow to consider, though he also wrote that he wanted to keep it between the two of them and was not attempting to "hijack" the project.

HBO ultimately passed on "Irreparable Harm" in March 2012 when it decided not to extend its option on the project, the court heard.

Snepp also co-wrote another project loosely based on his own life, provisionally titled "Breakpoint" and later "Blowback." A Feb. 17, 2009 treatment shown to the court proposed that Josh Brolin should play Snepp.

The journalist also wrote a script, "The Chinese Doctor." Snepp said he wrote the first draft while on vacation in China, based on an idea that had been floating around in his head for 15 years.

Williams also showed the court a 2011 performance review of Snepp's work at KNBC.

It appeared to commend him for his reporting but in an indication of the way the culture of the station had changed suggested that Snepp needed to be producing daily content at the station.

He produced 20 reports for the station in 2011 and not all of them were investigative, the report stated.

Williams also pointed to earlier testimony that suggested that Snepp was resistant to using the newsroom's editing system, Dalet.

"That's incomprehensible," Snepp said. "If they said edit on Dalet, I did it. If they said edit on Final Cut Pro, I did it."

Comcast acquired NBCUniversal in 2009, and Snepp's lawsuit states that the philosophy of the station changed around that time as the station rebranded to appeal to a younger audience.

Snepp is seeking $1,364,600 in economic damages in addition to emotional distress damages and punitive damages for wrongful termination.

Before Snepp resumed his testimony on Thursday, his forensic accountant Karl Schulze broke down the economic damages - $423,845 for past lost earnings and benefits from Oct. 10, 2012, when Snepp was fired, until November, 2, 2015, the anticipated date of trial.

Meanwhile, Snepp wants $940,755 for future lost earnings and benefits from the anticipated date of trial to Dec. 31, 2021 - the year that Snepp said he planned to retire after his daughter graduated from high school and would go to college. Schulze said he based his calculations on Snepp's $120,000-a-year base salary, increasing the amount each year based on an historical 3 percent annual rate of inflation.

In afternoon testimony, former NBC Los Angeles media manager Robert Guerrero said that in late 2010, NBCUniversal human resources executive Enrique Caballero had mentioned Snepp's age after the journalist appeared at the other end of the newsroom.

"'There goes cranky, old Frank,'" Caballero said, according to Guerrero.

Guerrero also testified that NBC Los Angeles president and general manager Steve Carlston said at a meeting, "'There sure are a lot of old people here.'"

NBC attorney Manuel Cachan, also of Munger Tolles, pointed out that the station had also let Guerrero go in 2012, after Carlston took over as general manager the year before.

Cachan asked if Guerrero was still angry or upset about losing his job.

"I wouldn't say they are on my Christmas list," Guerrero said, but noted that he was not angry at the station's executives.

The trial began Nov. 23 in Superior Court Judge Stephen Moloney's downtown LA courtroom and is expected to conclude next week.

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