Final Deadline

David Burgin is legendary as a rough-and-tumble newspaper editor. But the legend is full of astonishing contradictions, and its last chapter may include the outcome of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by one of his proteges at the Oakland Tribune.

Yet at the same time that the paper appeared to be concerned with public relations, Burgin jumped to the other extreme on a different story.

The Tribune ran a front-page story in December 1992 alleging that Alameda County Superior Court Judge Stanley Golde had been particularly lenient in sentencing sex offenders. An editorial that followed called for Golde to retire from the bench. After its own investigation into the matter, the Alameda County Bar Association cried foul. The bar contended that the newspaper had distorted the judge's record by failing to count the time defendants had been incarcerated before they were sentenced as part of a statistical look at his sentencing patterns. The association also said the Tribune had not reported a simple fact about apparently lenient sentences handed down by Golde: The judge had sentenced child molesters only in cases where attorneys -- including prosecutors -- had already agreed to plea bargains.

Burgin not only stood by the Tribune's story, he went ballistic in print. In a front-page story the following March, Burgin said:

"This really is nothing more than a pack of lawyers trying to curry favor with Judge Golde and a heavy-handed attempt to head off any recall movement."

In an April 1993 letter to Oakland attorney Edwin Clancy that responded to Clancy's criticism of the Tribune's stories, Burgin was even more poignant.

"[T]he last thing I'm going to do -- after more than 30 years of newspapering and dealing with legal eagles the likes of you -- is put up with a bunch of cheap shots and bullshit from someone in the law business, a 'profession' sick with greed and dishonesty."

The letter was read to about 175 members of the Oakland Rotary Club. Burgin resigned within a week "to pursue a new challenge." He denies that the flap with the Bar Association had anything to do with the departure.

"That was just a bunch of lawyers getting pissed off; their meal ticket to get clients off was busted. I wish we had gone farther. I have no apologies. You've got to back up your people," he says.

Burgin returned to the newsroom seven months after he left; his reappearance prompted Stewart's resignation.

In 1993, the ANG laid off another 14 people from the Tribune. Many others left on their own. Although journalists of all races were walking out the door, the exodus eroded the diversity that once marked the Oakland Tribune's staff. Along with at least a handful of minority reporters, the newspaper lost three African-American editors: Stewart, Butler, and Deputy Managing Editor Charles Jackson.

More recently, the ANG fired Bill Wong, a 17-year Tribune columnist and one of only a few high-profile Asian-American journalists in the nation, having appeared regularly on the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour and other national forums.

"He was one of four opinion/editorial columnists," says Burgin. "We couldn't afford all of them."

Wong was dismissed without notice or the benefit of a farewell; instead, he was told to make an appointment to return for his personal effects.

The move prompted a huge outcry and more canceled subscriptions. At one point, more than 100 people, including former Gov. Jerry Brown, gathered in front of the Tribune to demand Wong's return. ANG management turned a deaf ear.

"Wong has been in the community for a long time. He knows the community. A lot of the issues that Asian-Americans and African-Americans face intersect," says Oakland author and activist Ishmael Reed.

"We need more people from other points of view so that people can get a complete picture of what's going on in their community, especially Oakland, which is one of the most diverse communities in the country."

But Burgin insists that it is not the community picture, but the Alameda Newspaper Group that is misunderstood in Oakland.

"I think a lot of people are still standing on the grave of what was. The Tribune I inherited was a piece of garbage," he says. "All the things they did way back when, more power to them. We do the best we can. And guess what? Some of the award winners are still here."

If Peter Greenaway were directing a film on the present goings-on inside the Oakland Tribune, it might be called The Editor, the Editor, Some Lawyers, and the City Councilman.

In January, Christine Lavin went from editing the news to making the news when the former Tribune editor filed a lawsuit against Burgin and the Alameda Newspaper Group, alleging wrongful termination, employment discrimination, and sexual harassment.

The complaint details events that stretch from 1990, when both Burgin and Lavin worked together at the Houston Post, to her exit from the Tribune in August 1995, while she was dating one of Oakland's top city officials.

In her suit, Lavin details an event in Houston in 1990, when she was copy editor and Burgin was editor of the Post. The two, she says, had gone out for drinks after work, and Burgin invited Lavin back to his home to continue their conversation.

Her complaint describes the scene this way:
"Lavin agreed -- specifically stating that she would not have sex with [Burgin]. After an hour of conversation about the state of journalism and newspapers [Burgin] persuaded [Lavin] to listen to some music on his car stereo. At this time [Burgin] talked about his getting married next week and his concern if he was doing the right thing.

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