Since its filing in October 2011, we have viewed the lawsuit against us by Block Communications Inc. (parent company of The Blade) as a bullying attempt to silence a competitor. But a recent ruling by Lucas County Judge Gary Cook has given the case implications that are potentially damaging to private businesses in Lucas County and Ohio.
The background for the suit is a separation agreement Toledo Free Press President and Publisher Tom Pounds allegedly signed when he left The Blade nearly 10 years ago, which reportedly provided that he would not disparage The Blade (I have never seen it).
My singular right to speak freely and criticize is a cornerstone of American freedom. As disgraceful as it is that a publication proclaiming itself to be one of America’s great newspapers would use the court system to try to muzzle a critic, The Blade is now on a quest that could have exponentially more far-reaching and dangerous consequences.
We believe that one of The Blade’s main goals in using the justice system to achieve what it failed to do in the marketplace is to discover the names of our private investors. We also believe The Blade’s owners view the men and women who helped launch Toledo Free Press as opponents at best and enemies at worst. The Blade has used its reporters to lacerate us and our business. We have seen nonprofits threatened for working with us. We have seen advertisers punished for doing business with us (and in many cases, we believe actionably rewarded for not doing business with us — those names will be made public soon). We have seen The Blade manipulate relationships with some Toledo institutions to pressure business leaders and elected officials. We have every reason to believe that if The Blade were to learn the names of our private investors, those men and women (and their businesses) would be potential targets for The Blade owners’ wrath.
The Blade claims it needs the investors’ names to query them about decade-old conversations with Pounds, but as far back as our first weeks in business in 2005, Blade reporters called us asking about the financial involvement of Tom Noe of “Coingate” infamy and specific elected officials. The Blade sought those names in correspondence sent to us well before its October 2011 suit was filed.
It is part of our legal agreements with investors that their names be held in confidence; that is common practice with LLCs.
But on Sept. 6, the judge ruled that Toledo Free Press must provide its investors’ names to The Blade, even though the judge indicated that there is no case law directly on point in Ohio that supports his decision. In addition, we were ordered to hand over business plans and financial documents that may contain investors’ names as well as other corporate secrets.
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