The Rosie Trial | Day Four


CEO Dan Brewster Fiercely Defends Gruner & Jahr Actions

By Published on .

NEW YORK ( -- Under ferocious cross-examination by Rosie O'Donnell's attorney, Gruner & Jahr Publishing USA's president-CEO Dan Brewster yesterday
Photo: Doug Goodman
Gruner & Jahr President-CEO Dan Brewster.

The Courtroom Stories:
CMO Describes Breast Cancer Insult by Rosie O'Donnell
CEO Dan Brewster Fiercely Defends Gruner & Jahr Actions
Gruner & Jahr Appears to Strengthen Case on Editorial Control Issue
Testimony Describes Screaming Matches, Struggle Over Magazine Focus
Opponents Flail Each Other Over Who Did What at 'Rosie' Magazine

fiercely defended his company's actions during the rise and fall of Rosie magazine.

Much of his testimony, which continues today, involved the pivotal issue of who had legal control over what was printed in the magazine that ceased publication at the end of last year.

Meanwhile, an individual familiar with the matter said Ms. O'Donnell, who will now be the first witness called by her attorneys, could take the stand as early as today.

High emotion
Mr. Brewster's afternoon testimony topped a day of high emotion and raw anger that began when the day's first witness, G&J's chief marketing officer, Cindy Spengler, broke down in tears as she described a breast cancer insult by Ms. O'Donnell. Ms. Spengler -- Ms. O'Donnell's main corporate contact at the publisher -- is a breast cancer survivor. G&J has sought to portray Ms. O'Donnell as abusive, and this was the most shocking apparent example of her abusiveness offered to date.

The witness stand duel between Mr. Brewster and defense lawyer Matthew Fishbein touched on the contractual language regarding editorial control of Rosie magazine. Mr. Brewster made repeated references to G&J maintaining "ultimate editorial control."

Veto power
The signed joint-venture agreement between G&J and Ms. O'Donnell's Lucky Charms Entertainment, which was entered into evidence, contains the following line: "[Ms. O'Donnell] shall hold the position of Editorial Director of the Magazine, with control over the editorial process and editorial staff, subject only to the veto of" Mr. Brewster. Ms. O'Donnell "shall relinquish editorial control of each issue of the Magazine during the period one week prior to the editorial close."

"She has the right to decide what goes in, but if you don't like it you can say no?" asked Judge Ira Gammerman, interrupting one tussle between Mr. Brewster and Mr. Fishbein. To this Mr. Brewster assented, and then more back-and-forth between Mr. Brewster and Mr. Fishbein ensued over the nature of the veto until Judge Gammerman said Mr. Brewster is "not going to interpret that. I will. Let's move on."

Mr. Brewster -- who at one point said "I am not sure what 'editorial process'

The Witch Is Dead
E-mail Message Provides Window on Conflict

NEW YORK ( -- A sense of the personal animosity involved in the daily operations of the Rosie editorial offices was provided in an e-mail sent by G&J's chief marketing officer, Cindy Spengler, to editor in chief Susan Toepfer during the waning days of the magazine's operation.

The communication occurred after Ms. O'Donnell had pulled out of the venture but before the magazine ceased publishing. The e-mail was entered in the trial as evidence.

Ms. Toepfer apparently desired Ms. O'Donnell's large corner office, and in her e-mail, Ms. Spengler asked if Ms. Toepfer perhaps wished to "have one of the gurus who take out all the bad vibes" enter the office first. "Or maybe we do the 'Ding-Dong, The Witch Is Dead' song?" she suggested.

means" -- insisted that there were additional contractual provisions bolstering G&J's case, which presumably will be heard today.

'I resign'
Both Mr. Brewster and Ms. Spengler testified about a furious, expletive-laden mid-July phone call from Ms. O'Donnell. Mr. Brewster said he finally asked Ms. O'Donnell "What do you want?" She replied, he testified, "I resign. Take my name off the magazine."

Mr. Brewster said he glanced at his watch and asked, "Are you telling me, at 2:15 on this day [you are resigning]? ... I don't believe you have the right." But he testified he agreed to send her three options if she did have the right to resign, outlined in a letter sent by G&J's executive vice president, Dan Rubin. The letter was displayed to the courtroom.

He also testified he received a phone call from Ms. O'Donnell's spokeswoman, telling him: "You've got to fire [editor in chief Susan Toepfer] or [Ms. O'Donnell is] going to walk."

'Dangerous people?
As the relationship between Ms. O'Donnell and G&J worsened in the summer of 2002, Ms. Spengler admitted she had asked for a security guard to be on the premises on days when Ms. O'Donnell was expected in the office, to ensure "the physical and emotional security of our employees." To which Judge Gammerman, whose deadpan wit is savored in the courtroom galleries, asked incredulously: "They were dangerous people?" -- referring to the entourage Ms. O'Donnell brought to the offices.

The heat of the cross-examination is easily grasped in a quick review of Mr. Brewster's responses to Mr. Fishbein's grilling. They are studded with rejoinders like "absolutely false"; "absolutely incorrect"; and, in one impassioned response to a question suggesting Mr. Brewster needed to persuade a reluctant Ms. O'Donnell to sign on to the venture, "That, sir, is dead wrong! Absolutely dead, outrageously wrong!"

Loud gasp
At points Mr. Brewster's comments elicited noticeable reactions from Ms. O'Donnell. When asked if he knew Ms. O'Donnell might not renew her TV show -- an invaluable promotional tool for the magazine -- Mr. Brewster said he was told there were negotiations on the matter "but I didn't know they would fail," which drew a loud gasp of disbelief from Ms. O'Donnell. Asked about the popularity of her show, he said, "I don't know. I don't watch TV."

The visible emotion and rancor in the courtroom could sink potential discussions between the parties. Asked at the end of the day if a settlement was being entertained, Ms. O'Donnell said, "There have been talks." People familiar with the situation said previously that on Tuesday morning, when proceedings were stymied by computer failures, Judge Gammerman directed attorneys to discuss settling. No deal was reached.

There were moments of grace amid the tension.

'You did good'
As the courtroom adjourned for lunch, a little more than an hour after Ms. Spengler left the witness stand in tears, Ms. O'Donnell told Ms. Spengler outside the courtroom: "You did good. Do you not believe me? You did good," while touching her heart. Ms. O'Donnell's spokeswoman confirmed the exchange but would not speculate on its meaning.

But this exchange came moments after Ms. O'Donnell complained to reporters about a note she wrote that had been used as evidence against her. In the message to her partner, Kelli Carpenter, Ms. O'Donnell wrote, "I need my name off the magazine." She said seeing the note being used against her in court made her feel "the same way any spouse would feel. It's against my civil rights as an American."

The showbiz overtones of the case are not lost on Judge Gammerman. After excerpts from videotaped depositions were played, he said, "If I don't like the previews, do I have to see the movie?" -- a statement that was greeted by howls of laughter.

Somewhere near one of the attorneys tables came a response that sounded very much like "I wish!"

Most Popular
In this article: