Sports Writer Testifies Stroke Led to Firing

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – Former Los Angeles Times sports columnist T.J. Simers took the stand Monday in his $18 million trial to describe the collapse he believes marked the end of his time at the newspaper.
     Simers, 65, sued the Times two years ago claiming the paper had fired him after he suffered a mini-stroke and because he had taken medical leave and the paper wanted to replace him with younger writer.
     In testimony that began before noon in Superior Court Judge William MacLaughlin’s courtroom, the writer described in detail his March 2013 collapse in his hotel room in Phoenix, Arizona, where he was covering spring training for the Angels and Dodgers baseball teams.
     Simers said he felt a “tad unsteady” as he walked over to a dugout for an interview with Angels manager Mike Scioscia. When he sat down to conduct the interview he realized he was not his usual self, he said.
     “The words coming out of my mouth were not the words floating around in my head,” Simers told the 12-member jury.
     He said that Scioscia asked him how he was feeling. Simers said he told the manager he was feeling okay but noted that those present in the dugout gave him concerned looks because his questions were “almost gibberish.”
     After he returned his hotel, Simers described how he got up out of bed sometime after 2 a.m. to go to the bathroom and collapsed, hitting the bed and landing on the floor. After he pulled himself up, he shimmied his way to the bathroom using the wall and sat down on the toilet, only to collapse again on the bathroom floor.
     “The first thought that came into my head was stroke,” Simers said, noting that he was too embarrassed to call hotel staff because he was naked.
     Instead, he went back to bed with the room spinning in front of him, he testified.
     Simers said that the next day Dodgers’ medical staff sent him to the hospital where doctors told him he suffered a mini-stroke.
     The writer said that during his stay he worked on his column in his hospital gown at the end of his bed and received a visit from the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Tommy Lasorda and Ned Colleti.
     Simers said that he suffered issues with his speech and had difficulty walking, describing how he dragged his left leg along the floor.
     He told jurors that he had “dark thoughts” recalling his father’s suicide after being diagnosed with a brain tumor and his mother’s death. Simers described himself as a “tough guy” who was used to going “toe-to-toe” with athletes and said that the stroke left him feeling vulnerable.
     During the trial, attorneys for the Times have tried to establish that there had been issues with Simers’ writing and conduct months before he collapsed in his hotel room, and that he was never fired but left the paper to join the Orange County Register.
     Simers sued the Times and its corporate parent Tribune in October 2013. 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.
     Jurors have heard that Times management cut Simers’ columns at the newspaper.
     The focus of the defense has been on 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. The Times viewed both the video and article as potential conflicts of interest, the jury has heard.
     His daughter Tracy Simers told the court before her father took the stand that they had speculated on what was behind the alleged attempt to oust her father. She said they believed that 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 noted that the Angels had purchased ad space on the Times’ website.
     Tracy Simers said that the loss of the columns hit her father hard, describing how he appeared to lose his sense of humor, had trouble sleeping and began to eat more.
     “To see it unexpectedly taken from him was devastating,” Tracy Simers said.
     The writer will continue his testimony Monday afternoon.
     A witness list filed on Aug. 21 and obtained by Courthouse News stated that former boxer Oscar De La Hoya, Hartenstein, and UCLA football coach Jim Mora are among those who were to take the stand during the six-week jury trial. De La Hoya has since been withdrawn as a witness.
     Current LA Times staffers and editors will also take the stand.

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