Judge rules in favor of Block Communications, Free Press publisher must yield documents

Suit by The Blade’s parent company alleges breach of pact

9/7/2013
BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A judge in Lucas County Common Pleas Court on Friday ordered Thomas F. Pounds, publisher of the Toledo Free Press, to turn over documents requested by Block Communications Inc. in a civil suit alleging that he breached his separation agreement with the company.

Block Communications, parent company of The Blade, sought a variety of documents as part of ongoing litigation with Mr. Pounds, the Free Press, and its editor-in-chief, Michael S. Miller, including a list of the “members” or owners of the limited liability company that owns the Free Press, as well as the company’s financial statements.

RELATED: Read Judge Cook's 49-page opinion in its entirety

The Free Press had refused to turn over its member list and financial documents, saying they constituted trade secrets.

Judge Gary Cook sided with Block Communications.

“… Even if [Mr. Pounds and the Free Press] were to have discharged their burden of demonstrating that such information constitutes a trade secret, [Block Communications’] need for the information would outweigh the potential harm to the” Toledo Free Press, Judge Cook wrote in the lengthy, 49-page opinion.

Mr. Pounds signed a separation agreement with The Blade after he resigned as general manager in 2004. That agreement prohibited Mr. Pounds from disclosing any of the company’s confidential information and prohibited him from disparaging or taking any action directly or indirectly to harm the newspaper, its parent company and its divisions, subsidiaries, or affiliates or any of its directors, officers, shareholders, or employees.

If he were to breach any of the terms, Mr. Pounds would have to reimburse The Blade for certain payments he received and forfeit any right to any future payments, the agreement stated.

The judge’s order should allow the lawsuit, which was filed in October, 2011, to proceed.

“We are pleased with the court’s ruling, and we look forward to the defendants producing the requested information,” said Thomas P. Dillon, attorney for Block Communications.

Judge Cook ordered that any and all of the requested documents be turned over within 30 days.

His order is appealable, and Judge Cook himself said in his decision that his ruling “is particularly well-suited for appellate review and guidance.”

“… Neither the parties nor the court has found any case law expressly addressing whether or under what circumstances the identities and/​or ownership interests of a limited liability company or similar business entity constitute a trade secret,” he wrote.

Calls and messages left for Mr. Pounds seeking comment on the matter were not returned. Matthew J. Rohrbacher, attorney for the Free Press, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.