Outtakes from a "news break" video showed Sandra Maas irritated by poorly written script.
Outtakes from a “news break” video showed Sandra Maas irritated by poorly written script. Photo by Ken Stone

KUSI gives several reasons why it didn’t renew Sandra Maas’ contract as prime-time anchor at the independent Kearny Mesa TV station.

For one: Maas didn’t fit owners’ vision for a new format of the late-evening newscast, a “new generation” of anchors that chatted more informally on air.

Among others: Maas wasn’t happy at KUSI, since she said on set (but not on air): “I hate this place…. I’m over it.”

But Wednesday — Day 2 of a civil trial in downtown Superior Court — Maas attorney Josh Gruenberg grilled KUSI’s father and son leaders in an effort to deflate such claims.

CEO Michael D. McKinnon Sr., 83, confirmed that in 2018 KUSI offered Maas a three-year contract, ending in 2021. (She opted instead for a one-year deal.) But Gruenberg didn’t tell the seven-woman, five-man jury what that fact meant.

Its apparent import: The station thought highly enough of Maas to factor her into any new “Good Evening San Diego” nightly newscast.

  • Mike McKinnon Sr.
  • Jurors leave notebooks on seats.
  • Josh Gruenberg reads depositions.
  • Sandra Maas reacts to KUSI testimony.
  • Maas attorney Josh Pang.
  • Mike McKinnon Sr.
  • Sandra Maas and Josh Pang.
  • Sandra Maas and Josh Pang.
  • KUSI attorney Ken Fitzgerald.
  • Maas attorney Josh Pang and Mike Sr.
  • Sandra Maas email.
  • Sandra Maas email.
  • Maas attorney Josh Gruenberg.
  • Judge Ronald Frazier.
  • Sandra Maas email to Mike Jr.
  • KUSI founder Mike McKinnon Sr.
  • Sandra Maas listens to Mike McKinnon Sr.
  • KUSI lawyer Ken Fitzgerald.
  • Mike McKinnon Jr. is sworn in.
  • Judge Ronald Frazier.
  • Mike McKinnon Jr. on stand.
  • One of several deposition binders.
  • Email to Sandra Maas.
  • KUSI GM Mike McKinnon Jr.

Senior, as he is sometimes known, repeatedly called Maas a “good anchor” while refusing to say she was an “outstanding” one. (He reserved that adjective for anchors at major market TV stations.)

He also called Maas “a nice person.” And in his June 2021 deposition, Senior called Maas “a great girl.” (On Wednesday, he said: “I know better” than to call female staff girls. “But I don’t always obey myself.”)

Maas sued the station’s corporate owner — McKinnon Broadcasting Co. — in June 2019, alleging six causes of action. But Maas recently dropped three, leaving allegations of KUSI violating the state’s Equal Pay Act and laws on gender/age discrimination and whistleblower retaliation.

Buttressing those claims was at the root of many questions Wednesday, which the KUSI legal team sought to counter during cross examination.

Two key pieces of evidence were shown the attentive jury. One was an April 2018 email Maas sent to general manager Mike McKinnon Jr. in which she said she was “frustrated and a bit embarrassed” that she was working without a contract four months after it expired.

In the letter, citing her accomplishments, Maas says “my anchoring skills are second to none at this station” and “I love this city and plan to be here forever,” suggesting she’d like to stay at KUSI where she’d “enjoyed bringing San Diego viewers the news” since 2004.

But under oath on the witness stand, GM and station president McKinnon (Junior) said he read the letter to mean she wanted to leave.

“I can judge that from the tone,” he said.

Junior, 58, said Maas was unhappy with her pay.

When asked why Maas said she was enjoying her job, Junior said: “That’s not true. I think she’s fabricating it.”

Mike McKinnon Sr. (left) and Mike McKinnon Jr. leave courthouse at lunch break.
Mike McKinnon Sr. (left) and Mike McKinnon Jr. leave courthouse at lunch break. Photo by Ken Stone

Another disputed piece of evidence was a video showing Maas and co-anchor Allen Denton side-by-side trying to record an afternoon “news break,” or promo for the upcoming newscast.

After several takes at reading a poorly worded script, Maas halted and showed her frustration, saying: “I hate this place. … I’m over it.”

Maas’ lawyers called that an example of someone being irked in the moment. The KUSI team wants the jury to think she was upset with the station in general.

Senior said Maas should have reviewed the script before reading it.

Junior said Maas, 60, “wasn’t interested in the job. She didn’t put up the effort.”

Earlier, Maas lawyer Gruenberg continued his aggressive questioning of Senior about various issues. He focused on the station founder’s deposition testimony, sometimes yielding inconsistent answers.

Senior recalled being concerned that Maas, after leaving KFMB-CBS8 about 22 years ago, “was on the beach” before they hired her in 2004.

Gruenberg was puzzled. Senior soon clarified that “the beach” was station jargon for not having a full-time job. (Maas had left KFMB on her own.)

With jurors outside the courtroom on a break, Judge Frazier gave a gentle tongue-lashing to the Maas lawyer.

“Some of these questions are very good,” Frazier said, but others had gone “far afield” and wasted time.

“Looks like you’re creating a straw man,” he told Gruenberg with only a dozen people in the spectator seats.

With tough “isn’t it true?” questioning of Mike McKinnon Sr., Gruenberg was told he was “going somewhere we don’t need to go.”

KUSI attorney Ken Fitzgerald, noting Senior’s age, piped in: “Let’s not be naive (about) what’s going on here.”

Frazier suggested that the line of questions would be better put to Junior, not his father.

Before Wednesday’s sessions, I asked Gruenberg about his side’s missing witness — Allen Denton — accused of “ghosting” on Tuesday.

Gruenberg said Denton was in Kentucky, dealing with an ill wife, despite making his home in Florida. But he said the Maas side can still make use of Denton’s story — having deposed him earlier.

And before the jury arrived back from lunch, outside news seeped in about Raquel Welch’s death at 82.

Gruenberg whipped out his phone to display information about one of her movies — the 1966 sci-fi “Fantastic Voyage,” and boasted that his grandfather was its screenwriter. Apparently Harry Kleiner.