PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Two owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer sued their company and publisher Thursday over this week's firing of Pulitzer Prize-winning editor Bill Marimow, in just the latest sign of internal warfare at the storied newspaper.
Former New Jersey Nets owner Lewis Katz and cable TV mogul H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest accuse Publisher Robert "Bob" Hall of overstepping his authority, and demand his ouster and Marimow's return.
The lawsuit cements their long-rumored rift with fellow co-owner George Norcross — an influential New Jersey Democrat — over the direction of the struggling media company, which they and others bought last year for $55 million. Norcross' daughter, Lexie, runs the company's free Philly.com website, which offers readers much of the same content as the paid sites run by the Inquirer and its sister paper, the Philadelphia Daily News.
According to the suit, Norcross and Katz make up a two-person management committee that must approve any major business or operational decisions. Yet Katz, who invested $16 million for a 26 percent stake in the company last year, was not consulted about Marimow's firing, the suit said.
Marimow had refused to fire as many as five veteran staff members who offended Norcross or his daughter, according to two newsroom staffers with knowledge of the situation. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of a recent company directive not to talk to outside media.
In response to the lawsuit, a spokesman for Norcross and the remaining investors accused Katz of interfering with editorial operations, something the owners had pledged not to do. The Norcross faction, with a 58 percent stake, said staff decisions are Hall's "sole purview," and that Marimow was fired over his newsroom shortcomings.
The statement issued by spokesman Dan Fee also made reference to Marimow's previous dismissals from the Baltimore Sun and, under a previous ownership group, the Inquirer.
"The company is on the path to profitability and stands strongly behind the fine work of Bob Hall as publisher," the statement said.
Six local investors bought the company in April 2012 for $55 million, becoming the fifth owners in six years. They put in $61 million including other costs, the lawsuit said.
Lenfest put in $10 million for a 16 percent stake, giving him and Katz a combined 42.3 percent stake, the suit said. Norcross' individual stake was not disclosed.
Marimow, who had led the newspaper from 2006-2010, was brought back from Arizona State University last year "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," the lawsuit said.
Hall declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed by powerful legal warrior Richard Sprague, suggesting perhaps the acidic tone of the dispute.
"Having the support of two people with the integrity and public service commitment of Lewis Katz and Gerry Lenfest is heartening to me," Marimow said.
Staff writer Michael Vitez, another Pulitzer winner, bemoaned earlier this week that "we have owners fighting among themselves" and websites competing with each other.
"It is hard enough staying focused and positive in an industry fighting for its life, but the emotional exhaustion and frustration is compounded by the endless tumult and chaos within our own organization," he said in an online post.