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Pat Boone Backs KDOC Officials in Salesman's Firing

December 04, 1987|JOHN SPANO | Times Staff Writer

Singer Pat Boone told jurors Thursday that management at his television station, KDOC, acted fairly and honorably in firing an account executive.

Boone, president of the station, testified that an investigation conducted by the former head of the FBI in Southern California concluded that the termination was proper.

The testimony came in the lawsuit of Steve Conobre, a former KDOC salesman who says he was fired in 1984 after he refused orders to use fake viewer ratings and protested favoritism at the station.

"We as a group (of directors) decided that the charges were virtually unsubstantiated and unprovable," Boone testified.

The man who fired Conobre, Michael Volpe, acted correctly, according to Boone.

Boone's straight-arrow image as head of the station contrasted with earlier allegations in the trial of on-the-job favoritism, sexual harassment, brutal interoffice politics and widespread use of fake ratings to boost ad sales.

"He (Volpe) had done what he thought was right," Boone said. "We couldn't find any fault with what he had done."

Orange County Superior Court Judge Robert A. Knox took a two-hour break in the afternoon to accommodate Boone, whose flight from Kansas was late arriving at Los Angeles International Airport.

Wearing white running shoes, slacks, and a white sweater over a blue shirt, Boone testified briefly about his minimal involvement in the Conobre case.

Boone read from a personal note he wrote Conobre after his termination in which Boone stated "how badly I felt at the way things turned out." Boone wrote that he "enjoyed knowing you" and expressed "regret" about the firing.

Conobre was with KDOC, Orange County's only commercial station, when it first went on the air in 1982. He was the second most successful salesman in the 18 months he worked there.

He alleges that he was fired after he publicly refused to use fake ratings to enhance sales and after he protested favoritism he claims was shown by Volpe to an ad saleswoman with whom he was romantically involved. Both have flatly denied the allegations.

Boone said the board heard about Conobre's claims in a letter from his lawyer, Eileen C. Moore, shortly after he was fired. The board ordered general counsel William G. Simon, who headed the Los Angeles FBI office between 1960 and 1964, to investigate. "We all agreed that we would investigate the whole situation," Boone said, "to see whether or not things had been handled properly."

Simon testified that after extensive interviews he found no substantiation of the claims of Conobre and other employees.

Volpe, general manager from 1983 to 1986, repeatedly denied that he ordered his sales staff to use fake figures and fielded a series of questions about his alleged romantic pursuits.

Boone bristled at several questions from Moore, who earlier in the day asked Volpe if he was "a skirt chaser."

At one point, Boone shook his head in apparent disgust.

At another, he ignored Moore and asked Judge Knox: "May I ask your honor, am I on trial? Am I charged with something?"

Moore's case turns on whether she can persuade jurors that KDOC acted unfairly in firing Conobre. In her brief cross-examination of Boone, she asked who in his corporation had the responsibility of protecting employees.

"I don't see that as a corporate function," Boone replied.

Later, Boone bristled at what he said were Moore's efforts to "distort."

"It's clear to me that she's trying to paint us as some kind of remote corporation that couldn't care less about its employees," Boone said.

"I resent that. It's not true, and it's never been true."

Conobre, 66, has sued Golden Orange Broadcasting Co., which owns KDOC; Volpe; director Calvin Brack, and talk show host and Los Angeles mayoral hopeful Wally George. The amount of damages sought have not yet been specified.

Station lawyer Thomas Sheridan says Conobre was fired because of poor performance, poor attendance and his inability to get along with superiors and colleagues. Sheridan told jurors that Conobre had no right to expect continued work without doing the job.

Conobre's wrongful termination suit is one of a new breed of court action. Only in the last eight years have California courts afforded non-union, non-public employees on-the-job protections against arbitrary treatment.

After testifying, Boone said he was "mystified" by the lawsuit.

"I've just never had this kind of a problem," Boone said. "I've found that if I do my job, I get rewarded."

The trial is expected to conclude today.

Times staff writer Ray Perez contributed to this story.

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