Outside of downtown Superior Court (from left) attorneys Joshua Pang, Daphne Delvaux, Joshua Gruenberg and plaintiff Sandra Maas.
Attorneys (from left) Joshua Pang, Daphne Delvaux and Joshua Gruenberg represent plaintiff Sandra Maas (right). Photo by Ken Stone

A lawyer for KUSI-TV suggested in court Friday that former anchor Sandra Maas told ex-colleague Anna Laurel that Laurel would profit by providing Maas information in her pay-equity lawsuit against the conservative station.

Judge Ronald Frazier’s tentative ruling on motions in Sandra Maas case. (PDF)

According to Marisa Janine-Page, the lawyer, Maas emailed Laurel: “Help me win my lawsuit. When I win, they’ll just throw money at you.”

That apparently meant KUSI would settle any potential claims Laurel has against her former employer. (She hasn’t sued KUSI but retained Maas’ lawyers.)

After the hearing before Superior Court Judge Ronald Frazier, Maas denied that allegation and others by lawyers for McKinnon Broadcasting Co.

“Most of what they say is untrue,” Maas told Times of San Diego.

Janine-Page didn’t respond to a request for comment, and KUSI president and general manager Mike McKinnon declined to answer questions outside of court.

In a later email, Maas attorney Joshua Pang said Janine-Page’s remarks about certain emails “might create a juicy headline, but is not tethered to reality.”

“Ms. Janine-Page lied to Judge Frazier in violation of her ethical duty as a lawyer, knowing the judge has not read the emails because they are privileged,” he added. “Tellingly, counsel did not read the actual emails to the judge. KUSI … is attempting to use the media to manufacture a ‘she said, she said’ that doesn’t actually exist.”

Earlier, KUSI attorney Caitlin Macker argued against a tentative ruling issued Thursday. Frazier rejected a KUSI call to disqualify Maas’ legal team for using Laurel as a “secret agent” to gather information in the case.

Macker also defended KUSI’s reading of Laurel’s private emails by saying they were on company property — a newsroom laptop — and KUSI policy implied that employees waived their right to privacy.

But Maas lawyer Pang said the issue wasn’t complicated — the company policy lacked “clear and unambiguous language that gives up privacy rights.” If so, he said, any phone or computer that used KUSI’s WiFi network could be subject to KUSI monitoring.

“That makes no sense,” he said, declaring that KUSI was “overzealous” in viewing Laurel’s private email (seen by company CFO Steve Sadler after she left the station and possibly was sent from home).

In any case, Pang said, if company policy overrode privacy rights, would-be KUSI staffers would reject employment under those conditions.

Judge Frazier took the case under submission, and is expected to make final his tentative ruling. The case is still on track for an April 15 trial — where a jury will decide whether Maas was paid far less than her male anchor counterpart.

In his ruling, Frazier granted the Maas legal team’s request that KUSI return and suppress “stolen documents” from Laurel’s email account. Frazier also denied KUSI’s request to remove Gruenberg Law from representing Maas.

KUSI, he said, “has not demonstrated Gruenberg Law engaged in unethical or otherwise improper conduct during its representation of Plaintiff in this case that would justify disqualification.”

The two-page ruling left a mystery in place — who anonymously gave McKinnon a package containing emails from Laurel’s account?

“[KUSI] recently provided a declaration from Ginger Jeffries, who is employed as a news anchor for Defendant,” the ruling says. “Therein, Ms. Jeffries confirms she is the source of the anonymous package.”

But based on KUSI’s response to Maas’ privilege log, “Jeffries is not the source of any of the emails at issue in this motion,” the judge said.

(The package led KUSI CFO Sadler to look at Laurel’s private emails on a newsroom laptop.)

Frazier added: “With the exception of the August 26, 2020, email from Ms. Laurel to Defendant’s Human Resources Director, Sally Luck, to which Plaintiff asserts the attorney-client privilege was waived, the court finds the subject emails are attorney-client and/or attorney work product privileged and protected from disclosure.

“Defendant is ordered to either return all of the copies to Gruenberg Law or destroy all copies in its possession, and confirm to Gruenberg Law in writing that all copies in Defendant’s possession have been destroyed, on or before Monday, March 14, 2022.”