The publisher of the Baltimore Jewish Times and the publication's former printer have missed a third deadline set by a federal judge to submit a joint plan to take the company out of bankruptcy, and the years-long feud goes on.
Days after the plan to have investors take a majority interest was filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Baltimore, the creditor, printer H.G. Roebuck & Son, Inc., formally objected and asked the court to name a Chapter 11 trustee; Alter's lawyer said the company will file a motion opposing a trustee.
"No grounds for appointment of a trustee are present here," said Maria Ellena Chavez-Ruark, lawyer for Alter Communications.
She said the plan Alter filed last week would have an investor group put $600,000 into the company and take an 80 percent ownership share. She said the investor group, headed by Dr. Scott Rifkin, the managing partner of Mid-Atlantic Health Care LLC, approached Alter in the fall and talks began.
"They are our white knight," said Chavez-Ruark, adding that Roebuck took part in discussions with the investor group."They want to see this company survive."
William L. Hallam, the lawyer representing Roebuck, did not return a call seeking comment for this article. In Roebuck's motions filed after the Alter plan, the company argued that Alter's latest proposal is "not a joint plan," as the judge ordered, and "the numbers simply make no sense."
In September, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge James F. Schneider set a deadline of Oct. 21 for a joint plan, saying he would consider appointing a trustee to run the business if the parties did not produce the plan. That was extended to late November and a third time to Dec. 31.
The dispute goes back to 2009, when publisher Andrew Alter Buerger started working with another printer, contending that Roebuck was charging too much and delivering poor quality. Roebuck filed for breach of contract and won a $326,000 judgment that year. Alter Communications filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 in 2010.
In talks since the fall, Chavez-Ruark said the parties "were not able to reach, or even come close to reaching an agreement" on paying creditors and establishing a new management.
"We believe they did not participate in settlement discussions in good faith," said Chavez-Ruark.
Roebuck, in turn, argues in one motion that Alter "engaged in only enough superficial discussions with Roebuck" to justify an assertion that Roebuck was not acting in good faith.
Rifkin, who said he started reading the Jewish Times as a boy in Randallstown more than 40 years ago, said he and the other investors agreed to step in to save a venerable institution. The paper was established by David Alter, Andrew Alter Buerger's great-grandfather, in 1919.
"The Jewish Times is the premier vehicle for information within Baltimore's Jewish community," said Rifkin, whose company owns 12 rehabilitation and long-term care centers in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania. "It has a long and distinguished history and deserves to be saved."
Under the proposal, Alter Communications' contract with publisher Buerger would be discontinued, but he would stay on as an employee and publisher of the Jewish Times. Buerger would direct the content but final editorial decisions would be made by the investor group.
Arthur C. Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said he hopes some decisions can be made to resolve the dispute and continue what he considers a legacy of strong reporting.
"It's a tragedy that the paper is having this difficulty negotiating control over what it does best," he said.