Former Philadelphia Inquirer Editor William K. Marimow, center, is greeted by Brian Toolan upon his return at the Philadelphia Inquirer on Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, in Philadelphia. Common Pleas Judge Patricia A. McInerney declared that Marimow’s firing on Oct. 7 violated the contract rights of Lewis Katz, one of the owners who had opposed his dismissal, and ordered Marimow be reinstated immediately. (AP Photo/The Philadelphia Inquirer, Charles Fox) PHIX OUT; TV OUT; MAGS OUT; NEWARK OUT
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A judge on Friday blocked the firing of Philadelphia Inquirer editor Bill Marimow amid a bitter dispute between rival owners and ruled he be reinstated immediately.
Marimow’s job status brought the simmering private fight into public view and prompted the feuding owners to sue each other.
Owner Lewis Katz said partner George Norcross cut him out of the decision to fire Marimow last month, thereby denying him his voting rights. Norcross had said the decision came from the publisher.
Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Patricia McInerney heard several days of testimony before ruling Friday.
Katz lawyer Dick Sprague, who also represents co-owner H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, called the ruling a “victory for journalistic independence and integrity” and said he hoped it would let reporters and editors focus on gathering the news and putting out the newspaper.
Norcross plans to appeal. Dan Fee, a spokesman for Norcross and three other co-owners, said in a statement that returning Marimow as a “lame duck editor … will have the effect of risking chaos in the company.” Marimow’s contract ends April 30.
The judge’s decision may resolve Marimow’s fate but not the deeper discord at Interstate General Media, which also publishes the Philadelphia Daily News.
Marimow lawyer Bill Chadwick said the preliminary injunction “bodes well for the rest of the case.”
“The owners still need to resolve their differences over how to run the company,” Chadwick said.
Each side had accused the other of meddling in newsroom operations despite a non-interference pledge they signed after the men, along with smaller investors, bought the company in April 2012.
The testimony shows the pledge was problematic from the start, since both men have close ties to the newsroom. Katz’s longtime companion, veteran reporter Nancy Phillips, became the newspaper’s city editor, while Norcross’ daughter was hired as an executive for digital operations, including the website Philly.com.
Unless Katz and Norcross find a way to work together, the newspapers could be sold for the sixth time in seven years.
The turmoil comes at a critical time in the industry, as the Philadelphia newspapers, like others, try to survive amid a wealth of free content online.
Norcross is a Democratic powerbroker in southern New Jersey who built his wealth in the insurance industry, and he was a driving force behind the expansion of the Cooper University Hospital system. Katz made his fortune in parking lots, real estate and a stint owning the New Jersey Nets.
They bought equal 26 percent stakes of the company last year, for $16 million apiece, and make up the two-man managing committee charged with making key business decisions.
Given the pledge, a key question at the heart of the dispute is whether the decision to hire or fire the editor is a business or editorial decision. Some witnesses considered it both.
Editors, reporters, photographers and advertising employees have absorbed pay cuts, several rounds of layoffs and annual furloughs, while many millions of dollars have been spent on the company’s legal bills in recent years, including the prolonged 2009 bankruptcy reorganization.