Lawsuit: LA Times Says OC Register Owner Aaron Kushner Won't Pay Bills, Keeps Tips of Delivery Drivers
The Weekly obtained a copy of the lawsuit filed yesterday by the Los Angeles Times against the Orange County Register for unpaid distribution bills, and it's a hoot. The complaint, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, claims to know Reg owner Aaron Kushner's true modus operandi when it comes to the newspaper industry: He's a moocher in the vein of Wimpy, Popeye's rotund pal who'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.
But even ol' J. Wellington had a regal air to him when explaining why he couldn't pay up. In emails attached to the court filing, Kushner's carefully crafted public persona as a cool-headed Stanford grad is exposed as a farce, and the the true Kush emerges: a man way over his head who's begging his debtors not to chop off his proverbial thumbs--in this case, the distribution routes for the Register that the Times had run since 2009. Too late!
The lawsuit claims that Kushner first missed a payment in April 2013, but the Times didn't say anything then "as a sign of good faith." By the time February of this year rolled around, then-Times publisher Eddy Hartenstein asked Kushner to start paying. His response? "Mr. Kushner offered to pay down only half of The Register's debt," the lawsuit states, "on the condition that The Times give The Register a favorable rate for distribution of the upcoming Los Angeles Register. In other words, The Register offered to partially perform on the existing...agreement, but only on the condition that The Times give a benefit to a new competitor."
Finally in May, with Kushner owing over $3 million, Hartenstein sent Kushner a note telling him to pay up. "Eddy, thanks for your note and your patience," Kushner wrote back, thanking him again for his patience later on in the email. Hartenstein offered to a payment plan for the poor pendejo. Kushner's response? "While I'd like to be able to do more and appreciate your willingness to work [sic] us, relative to the plan I want to be certain we can keep to the plan so I just want to be upfront about not committing to a plan that has a possibility we would not be able to keep it."
In other words: I'll pay if I can, and I probably won't be able to.
Kushner paid the first installment of $400,000 in June...and that was that. When Hartenstein asked for the next installment, Kushner blamed a "digesting [of] a major staff restructuring...it impacted our immediate cash this month on top of the [payment] we made last month to the Times...thanks for your patience as we do our best."
But wait, there's more!
Even worse, according to the Times? Kushner won't reimburse them for tips that Register subscribers give to their delivery men, tips that the Times paid out because they're decent. "In short," the complaint reads, "The Register is keeping for itself tip money that subscribers meant to be paid to the subscribers' newspaper carriers."
Cue "Minnie the Moocher"!
The--pun intended--tipping point that finally led to the lawsuit came when new Times publisher Austin Beutner called Kushner for his money, and Kushner never returned his call. By then, the lawsuit claims, Kushner had already announced plans to transition to another carrier and pay them--but not the Times.
The Times is suing for two breaches of contract (the distribution agreement and payment plan), unfair competition, and three other counts. They're asking for what Kushner owes them, the legal costs of the lawsuits, and "damages." More--much more--to come. Should be fun!
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