A former advertising salesman for KDOC-TV in Anaheim has been awarded $256,000 by a jury in his wrongful termination lawsuit against the station's parent company, two of its top managers and the station's talk show host, Wally George.
Steve Conobre, 66, claimed that he was fired three years ago partly because he refused to use phony viewer ratings in his sales pitch. He claimed that the false sales pitch was ordered by then-station manager Michael Volpe, one of the defendants in the lawsuit.
The jury Monday awarded Conobre $181,000 in general damages and ordered the television station's owners, Golden Orange Broadcasting Co. Inc., to pay him $50,000 in punitive damages. Charles Brack, one of the company directors, and Volpe were ordered to pay $10,000 each in punitive damages. The jury assessed George $5,000 in punitive damages.
Wally George was included as a defendant because Conobre claimed George had tried to get him fired after he complained about the talk show host's pursuit of a married female advertising executive. George is the political right-wing host of the Saturday night show, "Hot Seat." He also hosts a radio show in Los Angeles and is a candidate for mayor.
While George was only a minor figure in the lawsuit, he was center stage during his testimony two weeks ago. He flamboyantly asserted that the woman, Linda Ford, had pursued him, not the other way around.
But Conobre's attorney, Eileen C. Moore, produced dozens of letters and cards that Ford said George had sent her in seeking her affections. George finally admitted writing at least some of them.
Ford testified that George was relentless in pursuing her. One of the cards produced in court was signed "President Ronald Reagan," which Ford said was in George's handwriting. It said Ford should marry Wally George in the national interest.
George said the allegations were a "despicable" attempt to ruin his reputation as a moral person.
Conobre said Volpe, station manager and his superior at the time, ordered him and other ad sales people to tell prospective advertisers that its ratings came from ARB. ARB is commonly understood in broadcasting to refer to Arbitron, one of the two major ratings services. Conobre said that if anyone asked what ARB meant, they should say it was the Anaheim Research Bureau.
Volpe denied Conobre's allegations. But several other station employees--past and present--supported Conobre's version of events. Ford has her own lawsuit pending against the company over the false ratings issue.