OCTOBER 22, 2013
I'm sitting in a city hall courtroom to witness the official gathering of combatants in the crossfire lawsuits over the sudden firing two weeks ago of Philadelphia Inquirer editor Bill Marimow.
It's a dispute that could leave the paper in leadership limbo for months, years maybe, while its bitterly feuding owners litigate their differences.
How crazy is it?
Sitting there waiting for things to begin, I decide to do a rough estimate of the legal costs of the proceeding. I figure conservatively, the meter was running at $100 per minute (10 lawyers, averaging $600 an hour).
And just for fun, another reporter and I estimate the cost of the suits among the lawyers and other parties - easily $25,000 worth of threads on the other side of the rail from the riff-raff.
If you're new to this story, see this post which gives some context to Marimow's firing and the battle among the owners. Publisher Bob Hall fired Marimow, and two owners, businessman Lew Katz and philanthropist H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest sued, charging that the agreement among the owners required the approval of both Katz and South Jersey businessman George Norcross. Norcross and Hall have counter-sued.
Back at court
The audience at the courtroom was interesting, too. There were reporters from eight news organizations (none of them TV stations), and an interesting sampling of present and former Inquirer staff: Current politics editor Dan Biddle, the Pulitzer-prize winning reporter Marimow recently refused to fire; former Inquirer metro editor Steve Seplow, who humored my request for a job 25 years ago by having coffee with me; prize-winning photographer Sharon Wohlmuth; and veteran reporter and author Murray Dubin;
Practically nothing happened in public. Judge Patricia McInerney invited the lawyers back to her chambers and emerged after 20 minutes to say she's setting a hearing Monday to hear arguments on whether the case should be heard in Philadelphia, where the pro-Marimow owners filed, or in Wilmington, where Norcross, and Hall filed.
If McInerney decides she has jurisdiction, she'll then consider whether to grant an injunction giving Marimow back his job while the case proceeds. Every indication is that this will be a protracted legal battle that drains the company's coffers, further demoralizes the staff and sloshes more mud on the parties involved.
Though Marimow is not a party in the legal fight, he was in court and is now personally represented by Bill Chadwick, a well-known attorney who, among other things, conducted a searing investigation of Philadelphia traffic court last year on behalf of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Chadwick told reporters afterward that this is a "corporate governance dispute" in which "it's unfortunate that some have attempted to smear Bill Marimow." The comment was a clear reference to a long memorandum written by publisher Bob Hall.
Marimow and the two owners on his side of the dispute, Katz and Lenfest attended the court appearance but didn't say much. Norcross wasn't there, and his spokesman Dan Fee declined comment afterward.
As the parties were shuffling out of the courtroom, I caught up with Lenfest and asked when and how this thing could get resolved.
"If I knew, I'd answer," he said. "I don't know."