Las Vegas Sun publisher-editor renews legal fight to keep newspaper agreement intact

A letter of intent that would end a 24-year-old agreement governing the operation of Las Vegas’ two daily newspapers was signed last week, prompting the publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun to renew his legal battle to keep the document in place.

The four-page letter was attached to a motion filed Thursday in U.S. District Court by attorneys for Brian Greenspun who for the second time are asking the court to block the action. Greenspun’s initial request to stop his siblings and Stephens Media Corp., owners of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, from ending the newspaper joint operating agreement was denied on Sept. 6 by Judge James Mahan.

In a ruling from the bench following an hourlong hearing, Mahan said it was too early for the lawsuit to be filed.

As in the earlier lawsuit, Greenspun names only Stephens Media, not his three siblings; brother Danny Greenspun, and sisters Susan Greenspun Fine and Janie Greenspun Gale.

The newest filing makes similar claims as Greenspun’s initial lawsuit: Ending the joint operating agreement would “put the Las Vegas Sun out of business” and create a newspaper “monopoly” in Las Vegas.

Four days after Mahan’s ruling, Stephens Media CEO Michael Ferguson and Paul Hamilton, president of the Las Vegas Sun and the Greenspun Corp., signed the nonbinding letter, which would dissolve the joint operating agreement by Dec. 31.

Las Vegas attorney Colby Williams, representing the Stephens Media, said any lawsuit is still premature because a contract has yet to be finalized. That document would then be subject to review by the U.S. Department of Justice, which oversees joint operating agreements.

Williams called the filing “a rehash” of the original lawsuit.

“They appear to make the exact same arguments,” Williams said. “The letter expressly says that it’s nonbinding.”

According to the letter of intent, the Greenspuns agree to end the joint operating agreement that took effect in 1989 and was amended in 2005. The four Greenspun siblings would each receive $70,000 and the family would retain ownership of the Sun’s website, lasvegassun.com. In addition, the Greenspuns would own the web domain name lasvegas.com, which they currently lease from Stephens Media for $1 million to $2.5 million annually.

Stephens Media would no longer pay the Greenspuns a share of annual profits from the joint operating agreement, which last year was $1.3 million, and would cease printing and delivering the Sun as a six- to 10-page Review-Journal insert.

The letter of intent does not preclude any Greenspun family from re-entering the Las Vegas media market by publishing a print or online edition of the Sun.

In a declaration filed with the motion, San Francisco attorney Joseph Alioto, representing Brian Greenspun, said the court needs to block plans to eliminate the joint operating agreement by Sept. 30, or “the defendants will be able to put the Las Vegas Sun out of business.”

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.