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ROSIE O'DONNELL'S BATTLES WITH EDITORS DETAILED
Testimony Describes Screaming Matches, Struggle Over Magazine Focus
ROSIE O'DONNELL AND GRUNER & JAHR TRIAL OPENS
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She also said that if Liz Mohn -- the matriarch of G&J's majority owner, Bertelsmann -- were involved in the dispute over Rosie magazine, "as a woman, this case would be settled."
Long, tough day
But the $100 million suit isn't settled yet. Ms. O'Donnell's comments reflect the strain of a long and tough day in the courtroom that had moments that appeared to strengthen G&J's case as well as moments of high absurdity.
The day ended with G&J attorneys playing the videotaped deposition of Dan Crimmins, Ms. O'Donnell's business manager, who negotiated her contract with G&J. Mr. Crimmins testified that Ms. O'Donnell told him he had negotiated "an extremely poor contract" with G&J for her, since it did not stop them "from taking over" editorial control.
The question of which party could claim editorial control over Rosie magazine, under the signed agreement, is at the heart of the competing lawsuits between G&J and Ms. O'Donnell. For their part, Ms. O'Donnell's lawyers are expected to focus on what they contend is a narrow definition of a "veto" power granted to Mr. Brewster. They are expected to begin presenting their case late this week.
"She believed the contract should have been written so it was impossible for [G&J] to do what they were doing," Mr. Crimmins said. She said the contract "did not protect her," he added.
Earlier, Susan Toepfer, the last editor in chief of Rosie with whom Ms. O'Donnell clashed almost immediately, took the witness stand.
Ms. Toepfer's tenure began July 8, 2002, and her relationship with Ms. O'Donnell -- who had a long meeting with her before
|Photo: Doug Goodman|
|'We'll see who's standing at the end,' Rosie O'Donnell said about Gruner & Jahr President-CEO Dan Brewster (above).
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But the next day, after Ms. Toepfer sent a proposed cover shot to Ms. O'Donnell featuring what Ms. O'Donnell felt was an unflattering and too self-centered cover, she called up Ms. Toepfer to warn: "You are about to hear a Rosie you haven't heard before -- an angry Rosie." A tirade laden with expletives followed. An apology followed as well, but the dispute over the cover apparently set the tone for Ms. O'Donnell's relationship with Ms. Toepfer. According to Mr. Crimmins' testimony, Ms. O'Donnell almost immediately began seeking ways to rescind Ms. Toepfer's appointment and bring back her predecessor, Cathy Cavender.
'I will bring it down'
Shortly afterwards came calls in which Ms. O'Donnell berated Ms. Toepfer for "speak[ing] to my staff." She also said, "I am the boss of this magazine. ... If I am not the boss of this magazine, I will bring it down. I will close the magazine."
Tensions grew to the point that Ms. O'Donnell demanded approval of everything in the magazine, which led to a day in which Ms. Toepfer sent more than 50 e-mails to the vacationing Ms. O'Donnell to inform her of even the most picayune matters.
"Every single point had to be negotiated," she said. Ms. Toepfer said the internal tumult led to a "Spy vs. Spy atmosphere" in the office.
Ms. Toepfer recounted a private meeting with Ms. O'Donnell following an all-staff gathering on July 22 during which Ms. O'Donnell was to have said, "You tried to kill Cutie Patootie!" -- a back page feature in which Ms. O'Donnell interviewed very young children. (The feature continued to run on the back page for the remainder of the magazine's existence.)
For the most part Ms. Toepfer held up under a withering and occasionally contentious cross-examination from Ms. O'Donnell's attorney Lorna Schofield, although Ms. Schofield won admissions from Ms. Toepfer that she had run some content in the magazine without Ms. O'Donnell's approval.
'See who's standing'
At the end of the day, Ms. O'Donnell, referring to Mr. Brewster, proclaimed on the courthouse steps: "The CEO said he would ruin me. We'll see who's standing at the end."
In a bit of meta-commentary, she said that on the news today one hears about accused murderers and herself: "What did I do? I'm fat. I yell. Sometimes I say the F-word."
"I would say, if it can happen to me" -- presumably referring to having one's persona questioned and subject to litigation -- "it can happen to you."
The next witnesses to testify will be G&J's marketing head, Cindy Spengler, and Mr. Brewster. The trial resumes on Wednesday after Election Day.