By Ralph Cipriano
Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Patricia McInerney has declined a petition to preside over the dissolution of Interstate General Media [IGM], owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and philly.com.
In a one-paragraph order entered into the record Friday afternoon, Judge McInerney wrote, "It hereby is ordered and decreed that this court declines to exercise jurisdiction" over the petition for dissolution sought by IGM minority owners Lewis Katz and H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest.
Although it does business in Philadelphia, IGM was incorporated in Delaware. According to its governing agreement, the company is to be dissolved under Delaware corporate law. That means it will be up to Vice Chancellor Donald F. Parsons Jr. of the Delaware Court of Chancery to decide how to proceed with the dissolution of IGM under its feuding owners.
Friday's decision was a victory for a majority group of IGM owners that includes Jersey Democratic boss George Norcross, William P. Hankowsky and Joseph Buckelew. In Delaware, Vice Chancellor Parsons will now have to decide whether to order an open auction, as sought by Katz and Lenfest, or a private auction, as sought by Norcross, Hankowsky and Buckelew.
An open auction would be open to outside bidders; a private auction would be limited to the feuding owners.
In a statement on behalf of Norcross, Hankowsky and Buckelew, spokesman Dan Fee said, "We are pleased that our petition will be heard in Delaware, as we believed it should be under the terms of the operating agreement of Interestate General Media. We look forward to the opportunity to explain why any sale of IGM should be among its current owners as the agreements rates."
Norcross, Hankowsky an Buckelew have "made it clear they are proud of the remarkable turnaround of IGM in the short time the company has owned the Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com and look forward to being part of its future," Fee said. "We would like to thank the employees of IGM and our readers who have been patient and supportive of the papers and philly.com during this process. We hope and expect that with the approval of an internal auction among current members, we can put all of this behind us in a manner of weeks, if not days, and continue building on the company's progress."
In a statement, Richard A. Sprague, lawyer for Katz and Lenfest, said, "We are confident that the Delaware Chancery Court will agree with our position that the best way to achieve the maximum value of the company is through a fair, open and public auction."
While an open auction would achieve "the maximum value of the company," the Norcross faction has argued that it may also drive any new ownership group into debt, and force more layoffs and cutbacks at the two newspapers and website.
In the last round of litigation involving the feuding owners, Judge McInerney ordered the return of both Inquirer editor Bill Marimow and Inquirer Publisher Bob Hall to their jobs last November.
Hall, who was supposed to retire as of Dec. 31, is still on the job. Marimow's contract is up at the end of April. Neither Hall or Marimow can be replaced while the feuding owners remain hopelessly deadlocked.