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Judge sets new deadline in Jewish Times bankruptcy

The publisher of the Baltimore Jewish Times and its key creditor have been given until Friday morning to file a plan to get the company out of bankruptcy or face a hearing on a motion to appoint a trustee to run the business.

Alter Communications Inc., which also publishes Style magazine, and its former printer, H.G. Roebuck & Son, Inc., are negotiating a revision of a plan that Alter filed in December that involves an investor group headed by Dr. Scott Rifkin, a Baltimore physician turned health care enterpreneur, said Maria Ellena Chavez-Ruark, Alter's attorney.

Late Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Nancy V. Alquist set a deadline of 9:30 a.m. Friday for the plan to be filed, and scheduled a hearing on the proposal for that afternoon. If the deadline is missed, she said she would consider Roebuck's motion to appoint a trustee, which Alter opposes.

On Tuesday morning, Alan M. Grochal, another Alter lawyer, said the competing plans to reorganize the company filed by the publisher and Roebuck were no longer being considered. Chavez-Ruark said that changed in 24 hours.

"Things change very quickly," she said.

Progress was held up Wednesday afternoon, Chavez-Ruark said, because Alter representatives were not able to reach Rifkin or the lawyer who has been his chief representative in these negotiations. The proposal originally called for Rifkin's group to invest $600,000 in exchange for an 80 percent stake in Alter.

Representatives of the two sides were in and out of Alquist's courtroom three times from morning to late afternoon on Wednesday, updating the judge on their progress and continuing private discussions. This round of hearings on a reorganization plan began Friday and orginally was scheduled to be completed Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Alquist approved a motion to allow Alter's co-publisher, Ronnie Buerger, to loan the company $100,000 to cover urgent expenses, including employee salaries, printing and phone bills.

Alter filed for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in April 2010, months after the company was hit with a $362,000 judgment in a breach of contract suit brought by Roebuck. Since then, the two companies have been locked in an often bitter dispute over a reorganization plan.

Last fall, a different bankruptcy judge gave the parties a deadline to bring in a joint plan and threatened to name a trustee. The judge extended the deadline twice, the plan never materialized and no trustee was named. Instead, each party filed its own plan: Alter in December, Roebuck in February.

Now, though, Chavez-Ruark and Andrew Alter Buerger, Alter's CEO and vice president, say the tone of negotiations has improved and they remain optimistic about making the deadline.

"We've covered a lot of ground with Roebuck in the last couple of days," Chavez-Ruark said on Wednesday afternoon. "Hopefully that continues."

arthur.hirsch@baltsun.com

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