LOS ANGELES (CN) – Former Los Angeles Times editorial page editor Andres Martinez has sued his ex-girlfriend, Kelly Mullens, a PR consultant, claiming her promotion of a Hollywood client whom Martinez hired as guest editor for the paper’s op-ed page got him constructively fired from his coveted job.
Martinez says he asked producer Brian Grazer to be guest editor; Mullens’ firm helped promote Grazer’s film, “American Gangster.”
Martinez claims Mullens promised not to promote Grazer’s guest editorship, due to the appearance of impropriety, as Grazer was a client of her firm. He says she refused to abide by that promise, which cost him his job.
In his negligence complaint in Superior Court, Martinez says the LA Times hired him as its editorial page editor in September 2004. A year later, he says, he became romantically involved with Mullens.
The LA Times was going through considerable turmoil at the time, which continues. Its corporate parent, the (Chicago) Tribune Co. fired Times publisher Jeff Johnson and editor Dean Baquet in late 2006 or early 2007, and replaced them with people from Chicago, including new publisher David Hiller.
“This left Plaintiff as the only one of the top three persons at the paper without a connection to the Chicago Tribune,” Martinez says. “Additionally, there was a growing rift between the editorial and news staffs at the papers that had been created by the transfer of former editorial board members to the newsroom and a change in the editorial page’s political orientation.”
(The Chicago Tribune’s editorial page is considerably farther to the right than the pre-Tribune L.A. Times.)
Martinez says that at about the time that he became involved with Mullens, she and her boss, Allan Mayer, left their jobs at Sitrick and Co., a PR firm, and she began working for Mayer at his new firm, 42West.
Martinez says Mullens “was fully aware of the internal turmoil at the Los Angeles Times”.
In mid to late 2006, Martinez says, he “came up with an idea to use guest editors for the Sunday Current approximately four times per year.” The Current is the Times’ op-ed page.
(Contrary to many readers’ conceptions, an op-ed page was not, traditionally, a continuation of the newspaper’s editorial page. It was intended to expose readers to opinions opposite those of the newspaper’s editorial board: hence, op ed. This tradition has been eroded in recent years, as many newspapers tend to favor columnists who agree with the editorial board’s slant.)
Martinez said he wanted someone from Hollywood to be the Current’s first guest editor, and tried to get Steven Spielberg. So, he says, he contacted his girlfriend’s boss, Mayer, “who represented Spielberg.” Martinez says, “Mayer informed plaintiff that Spielberg could not do the project and suggested that plaintiff consider producer Brian Grazer.”
Grazer owns the production company Imagine Entertainment with Ron Howard, the complaint states.
Martinez says he cleared the idea of having Grazer guest edit the page with Times publisher David Hiller, with the editor of the Current page, and with his own deputy editorial page editor. He says he informed them all so they would be aware of his potential conflicts of interest.
Grazer’s guest-edited Current page was slated to run in March or April 2007, Martinez says – the first guest-edited Current page.
Martinez says Mullens subsequently told him that Grazer had hired her firm, 42West, to promote his film, “American Gangster.” Martinez says he did not expect that 42West would be involved in promoting Grazer’s guest editorship, but “he recognized the potential for the appearance of impropriety if it came to light that he had selected a client of his girlfriend’s firm as the first guest editor – especially if she would end up profiting personally. Accordingly, plaintiff requested that Mullens recuse herself from any involvement in promotion of Grazer’s guest editorship, and Mullens expressly agreed.”
Martinez claims that Mayer and Michael Rosenberg, of Imagine Entertainment, understood the possible conflicts, and agreed not to promote Grazer’s connection with Current. But as the date of the guest-edited Current approached, Martinez says,
“Rosenberg determined that the project needed more promotion than The Los Angeles Times was giving it and asked 42West to get involved.” Martinez says Mullens assured him again that she would not be involved.
Despite her promise, Martinez says, a draft press release that circulated at the L.A. Times listed Mullens as a contact. A week later, he says, Mullens told him that “because of her work, both AP and Reuters had written positive pieces about Grazer’s guest editorship.”
Martinez says he soon learned that an L.A. Times reporter was asking questions about his personal life, and that the Times’ news department was “working on a story concerning the Grazer-edited ‘Current’ and plaintiff’s relationship with Mullen.” This led to stories about the tangle on Internet blogs.
“As a result, Hiller made the decision to cancel the Grazer section. As a further result, plaintiff was constructive discharged from his position with The Los Angeles Times,” the complaint states.
Martinez demands damages for injury to his reputation, negligence, and promissory estoppel. He is represented by Paul Guelpa with Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp.