‘Strib’ Chairman Rejects Call for Independent Inquiry Into Ridder Case

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By: E&P Staff

Chris Harte, the Chairman of the Star Tribune, responded Wednesday to calls from the paper’s guild for an independent inquiry into the controversy surrounding new publisher Par Ridder, saying that running a parallel investigation to the current legal proceeding “seems presumptive that the judicial process is somehow flawed.”

The St. Paul Pioneer Press has lodged the suit against Ridder, its former publisher, and other executives who defected to the rival Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“The allegations [against Par Ridder] are just that — allegations — which are going to be dealt with in the course of this lawsuit,” wrote Harte. “So we are going to let the lawsuit take its course. This can be a distraction to all of us if we let it, but I hope you all will agree with me that our efforts are better spent by focusing on serving readers and advertisers and letting this lawsuit work its way through the courts.”

The Newspaper Guild’s Star Tribune unit (in a letter from Jaime Chismar, Chris Serres, Pamela Miller and Pat Doyle) wrote to Harte on Tuesday saying “We want to convey that the lawsuit raises questions about the credibility of the Star Tribune and affects our work as journalists.” The letter said that an independent inquiry would be the best way to end thedistraction of the Ridder trial and ensure the paper’s credibility.

Also Wednesday, the judge presiding over lawsuit declined to rule immediately on a motion to give the Pi-Press access to some Strib computers — and warned both papers that their credibility was at stake in the lawsuit.

“I think you are all aware that the credibility of the media is in question here and that doesn’t bode well for either of you,” Ramsey County (Minn.) District Court Judge David C. Higgs said, according to accounts by Matt McKinney on the Star Tribune’s Web site, and by Jennifer Bjorhus and John Welbes on the Pioneer Press’s Web site.

Higgs said he would rule soon on the Pioneer Press request for a temporary restraining order (TRO) allowing the paper access to about a dozen Star Tribune computers and servers used by certain executives. The Pioneer Press is also asking for a TRO that would prevent former Pioneer Press niche publications head Jennifer Parratt from starting a similar job at the Star Tribune.

While declining to grant the TROs, Higgs ordered Parratt not to have contact with Pioneer Press customers. Both papers were also ordered to preserve computers and documents relevant to the case.

The hearing was the first since the Pioneer Press filed last week’s lawsuit accusing former publisher Par Ridder of breaching a non-compete agreement — and taking voluminous amounts of confidential newspaper material — when he left to become publisher of the Star Tribune in March. Two other Pioneer Press executives who are joining Ridder at the Star Tribune are in violation of their non-compete agreements, according to the lawsuit.

In court, a Star Tribune attorney said that Parratt believed her non-compete agreement had been waived, the Pioneer Press article said. A Pioneer Press attorney said the agreement could not be waived without written consent, which he said does not exist.

In an affidavit filed Tuesday, Ridder says that his non-compete agreement had been voided by Art Brisbane, then senior vice president for operations at Knight Ridder. MediaNews bought the Pioneer Press after the breakup of Knight Ridder last summer, and kept Ridder on as publisher. The Pioneer Press lawsuit claims that Brisbane has denied waiving the publisher’s non-compete agreement.

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