LOS ANGELES (CN) - The Orange County Register has hit back at claims that it owes the Los Angeles Times $2.5 million in delivery fees, claiming in court that the "'bully' up north" is intent on destroying its competitor.
On Dec. 5, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert O'Brien entered a temporary protective order against the troubled Register. He extended that order this past Friday, which includes the Register's bank accounts, stocks, bonds, securities and brokerage accounts, real estate and real property - including computers and vehicles.
The Register is the flagship newspaper of Aaron Kushner's Santa Ana-based media company, Freedom Communications.
The Tribune-owned Los Angeles Times sued the Register for breach of contract in October, claiming the Orange County paper fell behind on delivery fee payments under a five-year-old agreement in April 2013.
The lawsuit states that during negotiations, Kushner offered $1 million to settle the debt. But that came with strings attached. He asked the Times to offer him a favorable rate to deliver the publisher's ill-fated L.A. Register, the Times says.
When the Times turned down the offer, the Register allegedly agreed to pay in installments. After paying $600,000 it "quickly broke its promise" and stopped, the Times says.
But last week in an $8.5 million cross-complaint, Orange County Register Communications accused Tribune Company CEO Jack Griffin of an "all-out assault on OC Register's business, operation and reputation."
"The Times' goal was clear: put OC Register out of business and leave Orange County without a major newspaper other than The Times," the Jan. 6 cross-complaint states. "Since the Times had complete control over OC Register's distribution, the means to accomplish that aim was easily in reach. The Times therefore decided to disrupt delivery of OC Register by deliberately breaching the agreement."
OC Register says the Times has "periodically attempted to force its smaller neighbor out of business, but in each instance, OC Register has succeeded in fending off the 'bully' up north."
After Griffin took the helm of the Tribune Company that all changed, according to the cross-complaint.
The Register says that back in 2012, Griffin filed a civil lawsuit against Kushner and the Register's holding company in a New York court, claiming that he was owed $10 million for advising Kushner when he bought out the OC Register.
"Mr. Griffin continues to pursue his suit and personal agenda over two years later," the Register says.
The paper also claims that Griffin announced plans to take the reins of newspapers in Orange County and San Diego.
In a "scheme to kill the OC Register," The Times offered $75,000 to distributors in an effort to get them to not deliver the Register's papers, the Register adds - estimating that the Times' alleged breaches have caused it $8.5 million in losses.
"It was the Orange County Register that breached the agreement," the Times said in a statement to a Register journalist. "Any counterclaims are patently false and desperate attempts to distract. The only party responsible for any damages to the Orange County Register is the Orange County Register itself."
Former Las Vegas casino marketer Rich Mirman took Kushner's place as the flagging newspaper's publisher last year.
Kushner remains the principal of Freedom Communications, which he owns through a private equity firm, the Times reported this past October.
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