Lancaster Mgmt. Says Publisher Fired For Cause

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

In court papers filed last week, Lancaster Management Inc. acknowledged putting employment conditions on Marty Backus Jr. that included his sleeping in the same bed with his wife “every night without fail” — but it also claimed the former publisher of The Waldron (Ark.) News was an “untrustworthy” executive who was fired for cause.

The family-owned chain, based in Gasden, Ala., was responding to a federal lawsuit filed by Backus in March. Lancaster’s answer claims that its now-famous 1996 probation letter — which also demanded Backus abstain from alcohol, attend church weekly, and begin and end each day by praying aloud with his wife — was written at the urging of his wife. Backus’ suit said that when Lancaster executives fired him in 2001, it was because his marital problems, which were later resolved, did not reflect its Christian image.

In its response, the chain said Backus “lied” about having paid a local post office money owed by the newspaper. Those “lies and cover-up attempts, if left undetected … could have crippled” its business, Lancaster said.

“We dispute it,” Backus’ attorney, Joe Byars Jr., said of the answer. “There’s more to come, but I’m always reluctant to comment on pending litigation.”

The lawsuit was filed March 18 in U.S. District Court for Western Arkansas in Fort Smith, and first reported March 20 in an article by John T. Anderson, a reporter for the Southwest Times Record, who was also the first to report Lancaster’s answer. But the suit’s claims went unnoticed nationally until The Big Sandy News, a semiweekly in Paintsville, Ky., covered the story on its Web site. The article, by Johnson County bureau reporter Chris McDavid, swept the Internet.

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