Mickey Kasparian, president of UFCW Local 135 and the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council. Photo via Twitter

“He called [San Diego Society of Professional Journalists board member] Lori Weisberg last week saying he would not be participating,” says Claire Trageser, the KPBS reporter who serves as president of San Diego SPJ.

His reason for withdrawal?

“Pending litigation,” Trageser said Monday.

That’s a reference to current and former female employees of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135 suing the union president for sex harassment, retaliation, discrimination and a hostile work environment — allegations he denies.

Held for at least five years, the annual critique-the-press forum is one of the local chapter’s most popular events, she said.

“It offers people in the news the chance to grade their media coverage and shows journalists that the story doesn’t end when we stop writing about it,” Trageser said via email. “It offers journalists and student journalists a chance to see how certain approaches to the job are received by the people we’re reporting on, and it’s especially important for journalists to see how to be dogged while also being ethical and compassionate.”

This year’s free event — which still features four people, including former City Attorney Jan Goldsmith — is set for 6:30 p.m. March 16 at San Diego City College’s TV studio.

Kasparian did not respond to a request for comment, but an organizer of protests against him said he learned Thursday of the pullout.

“I was going to create a Facebook event later that day to rally community members to protest,” said the organizer, Brent Beltrán. “Since the event is being held at City College, only a mile from my community of Barrio Logan, I knew We Stand with Sandy, Isabel and Anabel was going to bring a big crowd against Kasparian. Las Tres Hermanas have tremendous support in San Diego’s barrios, especially around Logan.”

Kasparian’s withdrawal was no surprise, Beltrán told Times of San Diego.

“The day I found out he was scheduled to present [in late January] I told other members of the group that there was no way that Kasparian would speak in public. … He’s too much of a chump.”

Beltrán accused Kasparian of lacking a backbone.

“Apparently there are still Democrats and labor folks that are scared of this guy,” he said. “But not us. The community, especially those of us from the barrio, don’t scare. We’ve already put up with the worst this city can offer.”

SPJ President Trageser said she was disappointed with Kasparian’s decision because he “continues to be a big story, and so I think a lot of journalists were interested in what he had to say.”

“It would also be an opportunity for the moderator and other journalists in the room to question Kasparian if he attempted to dispute some of the coverage he’s received,” she said, “so it could have led to a better understanding of what happened.”

Kasparian isn’t the first SPJ panelist to withdraw from the event, however.

In recent years, Trageser said, attorney Cory Briggs backed out, citing a travel conflict. And Todd Bosnich — the former Carl DeMaio campaign staffer punished for false accusations against the congressional candidate — agreed to be a panelist but didn’t show up.

“As far as I know, no one has ever been dropped” by the San Diego chapter after being invited, Trageser said.

This year’s event also includes (with SPJ description):

  • Marquis Parks, an El Cajon activist who helped organize many of the protests after a police officer shot and killed Alfred Olango.
  • Nicole Capretz, director of the Climate Action Campaign, which has been involved in San Diego’s Climate Action Plan, SANDAG’s transportation plan and fights with SDG&E.
  • And Michael McConnell, a homeless advocate who manages a Twitter account and Facebook page devoted to homeless news.

Goldsmith, said SPJ, “really needs no introduction.”

Pending litigation isn’t stopping the former San Diego city attorney from taking part, though. He’s a defendant in at least a half-dozen suits in San Diego Superior and federal courts.

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