Brian Greenspun is one litigious son of a Hank.
First, he filed an anti-trust lawsuit in federal court when Stephens Media, then owner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, persuaded his siblings to take a buyout and close down the Las Vegas Sun as an insert inside the morning paper. When that did not appear to be working, he bought out his siblings and acquired the Sun, allowing the joint operating agreement (JOA) to continue intact. That agreement with Greenspun Media Group (GMG) expires in 2040.
Now, Greenspun says he is suing in state district court because Stephens Media has been systematically underpaying him since the JOA was renegotiated in 2005. Until then, under the JOA the Sun received a percentage of whatever the R-J newsroom budget was. We called it the Sun tax, because for every dollar spent in the R-J newsroom the company had to shell out so much to the Sun for its newsroom to spend however its owners saw fit — hire reporters, buy equipment or, since Greenspun was the putative editor, pocket it.
After 2005, the Sun was contracted to receive a percentage of the profits of the R-J and both organizations would pay for their newsrooms.
“One of the important goals of the 2005 revised agreement was to ensure both the Sun and the Review-Journal independently paid for their newsrooms,” Brian Greenspun, owner of GMG, is quoted as saying in today’s Sun. “However, we have learned that contrary to the specific terms of the contract, the Review-Journal continued to pay for its newsroom from joint funds, while we paid for the Sun newsroom on our own as required by the contract.”
It is not a joint ownership agreement. It is a joint operating agreement.
Under Greenspun’s “reasoning” the R-J’s paying for its own newsroom reduced Stephens Media’s profits and reduced the amount of money he received. He estimates underpayments plus interest could top $6 million.
“The contract clearly spelled out how the newsroom costs were to be handled, and Stephens simply ignored those clauses,” Greenspun is quoted as saying. I haven’t read the contract, but why did it take 10 years for this to come up? Perhaps, because profits have slipped so far? There is scant evidence that Greenspun is expending much money for his “newsroom,” and what he does spend surely cuts his profits, if any.
I suspect Greenspun is engaging in mere creative interpretation of the contract and grasping for a sympathetic judge.
Greenspun is probably suing now because Stephens Media just sold the entire company to New Media Investment Group, who should be sure and lawyer up because they inherited the JOA and now must contend with the litigious Greenspun.
Greenspun’s attorney is still Leif Reid, one of Harry Reid’s sons, even though at one time during the federal litigation Leif Reid sought to withdraw from the case, apparently due to a conflict of interest many reasoned.
The Sun story said Stephens Media attorney Mark Hinueber could not be reached for comment. It will be interesting to see how this plays out since basically there will be no Stephens Media when the sale is consummated. The outcome will certainly affect New Media’s bottom line, too, since it must abide by the same contract, depending on how a judge rules, if it gets that far.