The Los Angeles Times—battered by forces of technology and changing tastes, and recently cut loose in the marketplace with seven print brethren by parent Tribune Media—has been accused in court of picking on an even less fortunate newspaper.
The Orange County Register countersued the Times for $8.5 million over claims that someone screwed someone over distribution of the OC paper. The Register’s counterclaim accuses the Times of “strong-arming distributors, bribing distributors, having its agents intimidate drivers and other improper actions to make sure that OC Register would not be able to have a full and complete delivery service,” according to Courthouse News Service.
The Register, the claim said, was desperately “fending off the ‘bully’ up North.”
That screed was in response to a lawsuit filed in October by the Times claiming the Register, which is the flagship of beleaguered Freedom Communications, owed $2.5 million for distributing its newspaper, plus damages that could amount to more than $4 million. The Times claimed it worked out a deal to settle the debt, but the Register stopped payments, so they sued.
The Register said it was an “all-out assault” by a vindictive foe who is executing a “scheme to kill the OC Register.” The counterclaim maintains that relations were fine between the two newspapers until Jack Griffin became CEO of Tribune Publishing, the Times’ parent company, recently spun off itself from newly-configure Tribune Media. Griffin and the Register have a history.
Freedom Communications principal Aaron Kushner hired Griffin in 2011 to help him pursue purchase of the Boston Globe and, when that failed, the Orange County property. Griffin claims he was never paid and sued for $3.6 million. Kushner stepped down late last year as publisher of the Register, handing the reins to former Las Vegas casino marketer Rich Mirman.
The dispute over distribution overlapped the Register’s launch of a Los Angeles edition and its demise last September, five months later. That month, Freedom sold its 173,000-square-foot headquarters in Santa Ana for $27 million.
In November, two investors, Abbey Financial LLC and Old Colony 2012 Investment Fund LLC, asked the Delaware Chancery Court to put Freedom Communications’ operations under court supervision, arguing “it needs independent oversight because the company is insolvent and in financial distress from mismanagement,” according to Law360.