Philly Inquirer Boss Defends Firing of Editor

     PHILADELPHIA (CN) – Philadelphia Inquirer owners have no basis to sue over the firing of a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning editor, the newspaper’s publisher told a federal judge.
     Inquirer co-owners Lewis Katz and H.F. Lenfest had sued CEO-Publisher Robert Hall and the publishing company Interstate General Media earlier this month over the firing of Pulitzer Prize winning editor William Marimow.
     Katz and Lenfest, who collectively own about 42 percent of the newspaper, claim that Hall required their approval to fire Marimow. They call the termination “unauthorized, unforeseen, and ill-advised,” noting that it caused a “firestorm of adverse reactions” at the paper. The lawsuit seeks reinstatement of Marimow and the removal of Hall from his position of publisher.
     U.S. District Judge Patricia McInerney is set to preside over a hearing in the case today at noon.
     In his preliminary objections, Hall claims that Marimow was fired was over his “longstanding ineffective job performance” and his “insubordinate refusal to follow directives or implement much-need editorial, journalistic and personnel changes at the Inquirer,” which he says caused circulation decline and contributed to morale problems in the newsroom.
     He filed the objections Oct. 18 – the same day that another Inquirer owner – George Norcross and his company, General American Holdings – countersued Katz in Delaware Chancery Court.
     Norcross says the partnership agreement that governs the company agreement “bars owners from interfering in the journalistic policies and decisions of the company’s media properties,” which include The Inquirer, the Daily News and Philly.com.
     Hall’s objections, filed in Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas, describe Marimow’s firing as “a paradigmatic editorial and journalistic decision that was within Hall’s exclusive prerogative as publisher, and outside the carefully delineated authority of the Management Committee,” of which Katz is a member.
     Hall says that “both at the Inquirer and throughout the newspaper industry, the firing of editorial staff, particularly the editor, has historically been considered the Publisher’s responsibility.”
     He also complains that “Katz has repeatedly interfered in editorial and journalistic policies,” and that “this entirely groundless lawsuit represents the latest and most egregious example of such improper interference.”
     Because Interstate General Media is incorporated in Delaware and Norcross’ case was filed there, the Philadelphia court represents improper venue, Hall says.
     “This court should stay this case, if not outright dismiss it, in favor of the pending Delaware Court of Chancery action involving the exact same operative facts and legal issues,” the objections state.
     Both plaintiffs and their partnership, Intertrust GCN, were also established in Delaware, he says.
     “Allowing this action to proceed at the same time as the Delaware Court of Chancery action would cause duplication of effort and expenditure of resources by the courts and the parties,” the filing states.
     It is furthermore of note that the case at hand is a derivative suit since the filing “makes it peccucidly clear that the alleged harm is to IGM, not to the plaintiffs individually, and relief is sought solely on behalf of IGM, not the plaintiffs themselves.”
     In Delaware, however, “a prerequisite to filing a derivative suit is a pre-suit demand on the board or a showing that such a demand would be futile,” the objections state. Since the plaintiffs here have not done either with regard to this complaint, their case must be dismissed, Hall said.
     Hall also argues that the plaintiffs have made no claim against him, as Hall is not a member of IGM and is not a member of the Management Committee of IGM. He says the suit’s attempt to have him removed from his position as publisher “constitutes a manifestly improper attempt to circumvent the power vested in the board by the IGM Agreement.”
     Hall also says that the case fails to join an “indispensable party,” or the other members of the IGM Management Committee, and that Lenfest is not a member of the management committee.
     “Lenfast has failed to allege any direct injury to his personal interests, and he does not seek any relief for himself,” the objections state. “Accordingly, he lacks standing to maintain this lawsuit.”
     In their complaint, Katz and Lenfest note that Marimow had been the Inquirer’s top editor from 2006 to 2010, and was rehired to “bolster the newspaper staff’s confidence after it had been drastically shaken by cost-cutting measures, a bankruptcy filing in 2009, and constant changes in management.”
     Marimow joined the Inquirer though it allegedly meant turning down a prestigious position at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He won his second Pulitzer with the 2012 article “Policy Shift by D.A. Stirs Controversy.”

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