Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Inky Owners Unable To Strike A Deal

Norcross
By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

After more than three hours of fruitless back room negotiations, a clearly frustrated Judge Patricia McInerney emerged from her chambers this afternoon to tell spectators that settlement talks in the war over The Philadelphia Inquirer weren't going anywhere.

The judge said she appreciated "everybody's hard work," but unfortunately, nothing was resolved, she said. "Unfortunately, we'll be coming back" for more testimony.

At issue was whether the judge would grant an injunction to reinstate fired Inky Editor Bill Marimow. Lawyers for Inky owners Lewis Katz argued today in court that Katz was denied his rights as a member of a management committee overseeing the daily operations of the newspaper when he wasn't consulted on the firing of Marimow. Katz's lawyers also contended that if Marimow wasn't returned to his editor's chair, the Inquirer would be irreparably harmed.

Defense lawyers for George Norcross, another Inky owner, rested their case today without calling any witnesses. Norcross's lawyers concluded the Katz team hadn't met their burden of proof. The Norcross team has argued that Publisher Bob Hall, clearly on the Norcross side in the ownership war, had the right to can Marimow. They also pointed out that the Inquirer kept on publishing during Marimow's absence, and even won a recent international award for front page newspaper design.

The settlement talks were hard to decipher, as the feuding owners and their dueling teams of lawyers kept shuttling in and out of the courtroom, and in and out of the judge's chambers for private confabs, when they weren't caucusing out in the hallway.

Lawyers were seen carrying around copies of a document with the heading, "Agreement," but apparently it wasn't worth the paper it was printed on.

If body language is any guide, Norcross was smiling and looking upbeat all day while Katz looked grim, and at one point, was overheard telling his lawyers, "I don't want to go back there" again, referring to the judge's chambers. If there was a lone holdout, the betting in the peanut gallery was on Katz.

Bob Hall has testified that as publisher of the Inquirer, he had the authority to fire Marimow. As the newspaper's publisher for 15 years, Hall said he had hired six editors, and fired two editors, including Marimow.

Hall said he had recently rehired Michael Days as editor of the Daily News.
Katz

But the Katz legal team put Katz back on the witness stand today and asked him who hired Days as editor.

"Mr. Norcross and myself," Katz testified.

Katz and Norcross are the two members of a management committee that is supposed to oversee all business decisions at the two newspapers, as well as philly.com.

On cross examination, Katz was asked if he had anything in writing to support his contention that he, and not Bob Hall, had hired Days.

He didn't.

Robert C. Heim, lead lawyer for the Norcross team, argued that Katz had signed a non-interference pledge to stay out of the editorial operations of the newsroom. And yet Katz had testified that he had blocked Publisher Bob Hall's attempts to fire three of Marimow's top assistant editors. And Katz was still insisting that he had the right to weigh in on the decision to fire Marimow.

"If you can fire newsroom employees, that would control the editorial content of a newspaper," Heim argued.

Heim said the reason Katz's companion, Nancy Phillips, concocted a cover story that then-publisher Greg Osberg had hired Marimow was because "they knew they were in violation" of the non-interference pledge.

Phillips, then an Inky reporter, handled the early negotiations to rehire Marimow. She and Marimow subsequently got together and cooked up what Phillips described as "the official story," which was that it was Osberg who had hired Marimow.

Heim read back testimony where he asked Phillips on the witness stand if the Osberg-hired-Marimow story was a fabrication, and then he read back her answer: "This is as I explained, yes."

David H. Pittinsky, a lawyer for Bob Hall, said that Marimow's contract expires May 1, so it didn't make any sense to disrupt the company by bringing back Marimow for three and a half months.

But Joseph R. Podraza, a lawyer for the Katz team, continued to argue that the Inquirer would be irreparably harmed if Marimow did not return. Podraza also said that Katz would have been deprived of his voting rights and full privileges as a company owner if the judge decided Marimow could be fired without Katz's input.

The judge gave no time table for when she would issue her decision.

Neither the feuding lawyers, nor their lawyers or publicists had any thing to say as they left the courtroom.

Norcross and his legal team engaged in a wind sprint down the long hallway, toward the elevators. David Sell of the Inquirer caught Norcross along the way. And Norcross had something to say about why his defense team called no witnesses.

"The case that was made by the plaintiffs demonstrated that Bob Hall acted properly," Norcross told Sell, referring to Katz's legal team.

I asked Norcross if it was true that he wasn't the holdout owner on the proposed agreement. Norcross, in mid-sprint, replied that he couldn't publicly address that question right now.

Bill Chadwick, a lawyer for Bill Marimow, was the only legal combatant to address the media.

Chadwick said his client needed to be reinstated because "Bill Marimow stands for independence and excellence" in journalism.

Marimow, Chadwick said, made the Inquirer a "credible newspaper."

Ralph Cipriano can be reached at ralph@bigtrial.net.

2 comments:

  1. Is that former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff talking to Norcross?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Never mind; got my (affirmative) answer.

      Delete

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