LOS ANGELES (CN) – Disgraced journalist Stephen Glass, UCLA football coach Jim Mora and former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda have all played bit parts in sports columnist T.J. Simers’ employment discrimination trial against the L.A. Times, which has entered its fifth week.
Simers, 65, sued the Times two years ago, claiming it pushed him out after he suffered a “mini-stroke” in Phoenix, where he was covering spring training for the Dodgers and Angels. He was later diagnosed with complex migraine syndrome.
Naturally, the Times disagrees with Simers’ characterization of what went down. It has tried to focus jurors’ attention on Simers’ ambitions outside of journalism, claiming he flirted with Hollywood to develop a television show, in violation of Times policies.
Times attorneys Linda Savitt and Emilio Gonzalez have frequently questioned witnesses about a video of Simers shooting hoops with former Lakers center Dwight Howard, and an article stating that the projected TV show was in the works while Simers was still at the Times.
The Times also claims that Simers was not fired, but left of his own volition to write a column for the Orange County Register. His job with the Register came to end last year when the financially troubled paper bought him out.
During the trial that began on Sept. 14 in Superior Court Judge William MacLaughlin’s courtroom, jurors have heard testimony from Simers’ daughter, doctor, former editor Mike James, Lasorda and a psychologist, who testified that testing indicated Simers could be paranoid.
Glass has not taken the stand, but the former journalist is assisting the legal team behind Simers’ bid for $18 million in damages, according to LA Observed.
Glass was a young star at The New Republic when it was revealed in 1998 that he had made up many of his stories. After he was fired he wrote a novel and passed the California Bar Exam, but the state supreme court refused to license him. Glass made headlines this week when he repaid Harper’s $10,000 for fabricated work he had submitted to the magazine for publication.
During Wednesday testimony, Times editor Davan Maharaj, who Simers said was instrumental in his departure, took the stand. Maharaj’s afternoon testimony was interrupted by film and TV producer Mike Tollin, co-founder of Mandalay Sports Media.
Mandalay uploaded the video of Simers shooting hoops with Howard, and later announced plans to make a television show about Simers’ family, according to court records.
Tollin testified that he met with Simers after the writer’s agent Bill Douglass set up a meeting. After Simers pitched him a story that centered on a father and daughter relationship, Tollin said they agreed to develop the project.
“I’m a sucker for that sort of thing,” said Tollin, who produced the sports drama “Coach Carter,” starring Samuel L. Jackson, and sports-comedy “Varsity Blues.”
An outline for Simers’ idea was written by Alan Zweibel, a television veteran who has worked on “Saturday Night Live” and “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show.” The manuscript, “She Hate Me,” was delivered to Mandalay on Oct. 7, 2012, the court heard.
In an email sent from Simers’ Times account to Tollin on July 9, 2012 and shown to the court, the columnist appears to question Zweibel’s ability to deliver a script.
“‘Whatever happened to Zweibel’s dazzle?'” Simers wrote.
Tollin testified that he had spoken to Sports Business Journal writer John Ourand to drum up publicity after Simers’ viral video with Howard, but felt that the June 10, 2013 story was misleading because of its focus on the television show.
“The emphasis of the story was surprising to me,” Tollin said.
The trial is scheduled to end this month. Testimony was to continue Thursday.
A witness list filed on Aug. 21 and obtained by Courthouse News stated that former boxer Oscar De La Hoya, Tribune executive Eddy Hartenstein, and Mora are among those who would take the stand during the six-week jury trial. De La Hoya has since been withdrawn as a witness.
Simers is represented by Carney Shegerian.
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