A bankruptcy court judge could decide as early as this week if the Baltimore Jewish Times will remain solely in the hands of its publisher of 92 years or be pressed into a partnership with its former printer, which it blames for much of its financial trouble.
With a circulation of 8,500 and a larger audience online, the publication remains widely read in Baltimore's Jewish community, which is watching the contested bankruptcy closely.
Alter Communications, which publishes the Jewish Times and several other publications, is fighting to hang onto the company through bankruptcy protection. Alter says it won't survive under the plan proposed by White Marsh printer H.G. Roebuck & Son.
At stake is a newspaper that has published everything from holiday recipes to reports on sexual abuse by Orthodox rabbis. And it has catalogued the lives — from births and bar mitzvahs through weddings and funerals — of thousands of readers.
"It's been a place to which the Jewish community could go for local, national, international news in the community," said Arthur Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council.
Roebuck, which is hoping to recoup some of the more than $1.5 million it says Alter owes it, is asking U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge James Schneider to approve its proposal for joint ownership.
Roebuck had sought initially to take control of Alter. Under the new plan, Roebuck and Alter would each get 45 percent ownership in the company, with options to take 5 percent more.
The link to the Jewish community would remain the same: the Buerger family. Andrew Alter Buerger, chief executive officer of Alter Communications Inc. and fourth-generation publisher of the Baltimore Jewish Times, would remain in place, for a time, at least. His tenure would be up to a nine-member board that would oversee the company.
But Buerger testified Tuesday that he wouldn't work with Roebuck. He said the printer responded to his request to negotiate lower prices with a lawsuit, and had turned Alter and his family into "hostages."
After the hearing recessed, Charles Roebuck said his company has "backup plans and backup plans to the backup plans" for maintaining ties to the Jewish community. The Roebuck family is not Jewish.
"There is no vendetta, there is no intent to torment or torture anyone," Roebuck lawyer William Hallam said in opening remarks Tuesday.
On the witness stand, Buerger said Roebuck "almost destroyed our business." For his family, he said, the Jewish Times is "our mission and our legacy."
Marc Terrill, president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, said the history of the organization is intertwined with that of the newspaper.
"In our communal archives, the story of our community and the leaders who built it are preserved forever," he wrote in an e-mail.
Alter filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year after Roebuck won a $362,000 judgment against the company.
The company also publishes Style magazine and several custom publications. But the Jewish Times is the flagship publication, Buerger said.
Testimony is to resume Wednesday morning and is expected to continue at least into Thursday. It is not known when the judge will decide on the bankruptcy.