Sports Writer Testifies in Trial Against LA Times

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – Former Los Angeles Times sports columnist T.J. Simers continued his testimony Tuesday in his high-stakes discrimination case against the newspaper he worked at for two decades.
     Simers, 65, on Monday described events shortly before and after he suffered the mini-stroke that he says prompted Times’ management to push him out of the newspaper.
     On Tuesday, he testified about the environment he was thrust into when he went back to work as a columnist for the paper in the spring of 2013.
     The retired writer sued the Times two years ago claiming the paper had fired him after he collapsed in his hotel room at spring baseball training in Phoenix, Arizona, because he had taken medical leave and the paper wanted to replace him with a younger writer.
     Simers’ testimony was interrupted on Monday when his psychiatrist Dr. Warren Procci took the stand.
     The columnist returned to the stand on Tuesday morning to talk about the challenges of writing after he was diagnosed with a medical condition called complex migraine syndrome following the mini-stroke.
     Simers told the 12-member jury that it was a challenge to write before his health problems because every time he faced a “blank canvas.”
     After the mini-stroke the writer said that he found focus and conversation difficult and said that he would frequently retreat to the media room at whatever sports event he was covering to get some “peace and quiet.”
     “My head was just one big noise,” Simers said, noting that after the stroke he had to live with a “constant headache” in the back of his head.
     The writer told his attorney Carney Shegerian that he always liked to take chances with his writing and that he believed he had the backing of his supervisors, including then-sports editor Mike James, as long as what he produced was successful.
     Shegerian asked the writer if he was taking a chance when he wrote an article about visiting his mother’s grave on Mother’s Day, May 12, 2013.
     “It was a huge chance,” the writer said.
     Simers testified that he was in Chicago for the weekend to cover the Chicago White Sox as they took on the Los Angeles Angels. Instead of writing about the Angels, he decided to rent a car and drive out to his mother’s grave – about 29 miles from his hotel.
     Simers said that the stakes were raised when he learned that the Angels’ pitcher was on for a no-hitter and described his relief when a White Sox batter got a hit. It would have been otherwise hard to sell his editors on the merits of an article about his mother, he said.
     Because of the long list of witnesses in the six-week trial, Judge William MacLaughlin is accommodating witnesses’ schedules by allowing interruptions in testimony.
     After lunch, Simers gave way to Dr. Doojin Kim, a neurologist who treated the writer and diagnosed him with complex migraine syndrome.
     Kim testified that it was possible for the syndrome to cause a stroke but called the chances “miniscule” and said it “rarely happens.” In his 14 years as neurologist, Kim said he had never seen the syndrome cause a stroke and said he did not reach that diagnosis when he treated Simers.
     “He may have had some strokes that were clinically silent,” Kim told the court.
     When Simers was recalled, he told the court that he had seen several other doctors, including an ear, nose and throat specialist who had diagnosed him with a stroke of the inner ear.
     Simers sued the Times and its corporate parent Tribune in October 2013. The Times has disputed the notion that it fired him and has said that Simers left to write a column for the Orange County Register.
     Times editors Marc Duvoisin and Davan Maharaj were also named but were later dropped from the lawsuit. They were present in the courtroom on Tuesday.
     Simers retired his Register column last year. He reportedly made $234,000 a year at the Times. He collected a salary of $190,000 at the Register, the court has heard.
     Times’ attorneys Linda Savitt and Emilio Gonzalez have steered the jury toward the idea that there were issues with Simers’ columns and conduct months before his collapse.
     They have frequently questioned witnesses about a video that 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.
     Mandalay Sports Entertainment had uploaded the viral video and later announced plans to make a television show about Simers’ family, his complaint alleges. Simers says he never granted his life rights to any production company.
     The Times viewed both the video and article as potential conflicts of interest, sparking an investigation into whether Simers had violated the paper’s policies, the jury has heard.
     His daughter Tracy Simers told the court on Monday that she and her father had speculated on what was behind the alleged attempt to oust him. She said they believed that the Times was unhappy with Simers’ criticism of then-Dodgers’ owner Frank McCourt and Angels’ owner Arte Moreno.
     Simers says in his lawsuit that he was warned not to criticize McCourt because of McCourt’s association with Eddy Hartenstein, the Times’ publisher at the time.
     He also claimed that the Angels had purchased ad space on the Times’ website.
     A witness list filed on Aug. 21 stated that former boxer Oscar De La Hoya, Hartenstein, and UCLA football coach Jim Mora are among those who would take the stand during the trial. De La Hoya has since been withdrawn as a witness.
     Current LA Times staffers and editors will also take the stand.
     Testimony will continue Wednesday.

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