A Nevada judge has upheld an arbitrator’s finding in an ongoing legal battle over one of the few remaining U.S. paper joint-operating agreements, ruling that the dominant vegas Review-Journal has to submit an audit and cover profits and expenses which its crosstown rival Las Vegas Sun claims have been improperly deducted in the last few decades.
Clark County District Court Judge Timothy Williams confessed during a Wednesday hearing that, with appeals anticipated and another federal lawsuit pending, his decision will not settle an increasingly bitter struggle over a surgeries pact entered 1989 having an end date of 2040.
The judge set a grip on the country breach-of-contract case to permit a separate federal antitrust and unfair trade practices actions filed by sunlight from the Review-Journal to be noticed. He allowed the mediation finding to stay sealed.
Williams’ written decision didn’t specify a dollar amount at stake, and executives and attorneys on both sides declined to disclose the amount. It’s expected to be in the millions of dollars.
“The court will not reassess and weigh the evidence that the arbitrator relied on to make his decision,” the judge wrote. “The arbitrator noted that while the Review-Journal has done just about everything possible to blunt, avoid, deter and postpone an audit … the arbitrator simply ordered that an audit be conducted and this decision is affirmed.”
Sun writer and chief executive Brian Greenspun on Thursday called the ruling a victory in what he and Sun attorneys say is an effort by the Review-Journal to kill the Sun.
“One of the ways they do that is through vexatious litigation,” Sun lawyer James Pisanelli told Williams on Wednesday. “Another way they have done it … is to starve the Las Vegas Sun.”
Benjamin Lipman, Review-Journal legal counsel, centered on the remain that Williams put on the state case. Lipman denied Review-Journal owners wish to get rid of the Sun.
“Nothing has been resolved,” he explained. “The state court action is on hold. The federal case could have a significant effect. We’re not seeking to shut the Sun down. We’re saying they should stand on their own two feet.”
The Sun, formerly a day daily, is published and delivered as one section within the morning Review-Journal, which owns the printing presses. Their joint-operating agreement was amended in 2005 to require each paper to keep its own editorial expenses and the Review-Journal to discuss an agreed-upon proportion of profits with the Sun.
The Sun claimed in 2016 that it was due at least $6 million gathered during 10 years of company with former Review-Journal proprietor Stephens Media. That matter was settled after mediation to get an amount that wasn’t made public.
The Review-Journal is owned by the household of billionaire casino mogul and conservative Republican political donor Sheldon Adelson. He is the 86-year old founder, chairman and chief executive of Las Vegas Sands Corp., which owns the Venetian and Palazzo hotels on the Las Vegas Strip and casino-hotels from the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau.
Adelson’s family purchased the Review-Journal in December 2015 and possesses it via a limited liability corporation named News + Media Capital Group. The Review-Journal was one of several U.S. papers to support Donald Trump for president 2016.
Greenspun’s newspaper characterizes itself “a left-leaning editorial voice” and maintains a strong online presence.
Pisanelli suggested in court Wednesday that the Review-Journal has violated federal antitrust law and announced that amassing the arbitrator’s judgment was an issue of survival for the Sun.
“The weaker party, the Las Vegas Sun … has been at the mercy of the good faith of the R-J for all these decades,” the lawyer said. “It’s only since Sheldon Adelson bought the paper that the good faith came to an end and the new strategy of starvation came into play.”
Newspaper joint operating agreements stem from the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970, passed by Congress to exempt newspapers from some antitrust laws to permit them to combine business purposes while staying editorially independent.
Las Vegas is among a handful of U.S. cities with papers still operating under this arrangement, according to the News Media Alliance trade association. Others include York, Pennsylvania, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Detroit. A joint-operating arrangement between the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News could expire next year.
Williams observed that the arrangement in Las Vegas hasn’t quieted what he predicted “rolling disputes” between the two newspapers. Both sides have sued each other many times through the years in federal and state courts. The Review-Journal on Aug. 30 printed a front-page editorial titled, “Why we want to stop printing the Sun.”
It called the joint-operating arrangement a “relic” and maintained that the Sun does not meet contractual obligations to create a”high-quality urban print paper.”
The Sun in September registered the different federal civil antitrust and unfair trade practices complaint.
Review-Journal lawyer Randall Jones on Wednesday urged Williams to postpone his decision, keep the mediation findings sealed, and prevent state court proceeding before the federal case is heard.
Hearings before U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware haven’t yet been scheduled.
“It is practically creating a quagmire,” Jones advised Williams, “because we don’t know what the federal court is going to do.”