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Witness backs up ousted publisher

December 23, 2006|Josh Getlin | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — A temporary office worker in the Century City office of ReganBooks, who heard both sides of a telephone conversation between former publisher Judith Regan and a HarperCollins Publishers Inc. attorney, said Regan did not use the phrase "Jewish cabal" or make any other anti-Semitic statements, said Bert Fields, Regan's attorney.

Fields, in a statement issued Friday, said allegations that she made those comments -- which Regan has denied -- constituted a "smear campaign" against the publisher that led to her recent termination. Earlier, HarperCollins had circulated quotes allegedly made by Regan in a conversation with attorney Mark Jackson that News Corp., the parent company of HarperCollins, had concluded were anti-Semitic.

Carmen del Toro, who worked in Regan's office for one week, contacted Fields and said she was in the office when the conversation took place. Del Toro was employed by Ultimate Staffing, an agency that provides workers to Fox and other businesses. Regan, who had promoted the aborted O.J. Simpson book and TV deal, did not know that Del Toro was listening in on the conversation, Fields said.

A HarperCollins representative said Friday that "we respect Bert's loyalty to his client, but unfortunately he continues to be terribly misinformed about the facts."

In an interview, Del Toro recounted what she heard as the conversation took place on speaker phone. She said Regan and Jackson began arguing during their phone call over a forthcoming fictional biography of Mickey Mantle that Regan was planning to publish.

The conversation grew heated, Del Toro said, when the publisher said high-ranking officials in the company were conspiring against her.

"I heard her say something about 'the cabal,' " Del Toro said. "And Mark Jackson came back and said: 'Judith! Are you going to tell me about a Jewish cabal?' "

The office worker said Regan then told Jackson that she didn't say, "Jewish cabal."

Regan, relaying her comments through Fields, said of Del Toro's statement: "It is 100% clear that I absolutely did not utter the words 'Jewish cabal.' "

Del Toro described the mood at the formerly named ReganBooks in Century City as "somber" in the hours after Regan's dismissal Dec. 15.

Some staff members "got panicky" when they lost the ability to use e-mail shortly after the news about Regan's firing began spreading through the office, she said.

josh.getlin@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Scott Timberg contributed to this report.

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