A Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge has concluded that Philadelphia Inquirer editor Bill Marimow's firing on Oct. 7 violated the operating agreement among owners, and has ordered Marimow returned to his job. The other side in the case promises to appeal.

Judge Patricia McInerney held four days of hearings on the suit brought by Inquirer co-owners Lewis Katz and H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, who argued that Marimow could only be fired by a two-member management committee consisting of Katz and co-owner George Norcross.

In a five-page opinion, McInerney concluded that the partnership agreement among the owners was ambiguous on the question of whether the firing of the Inquirer editor was a business decision or a journalistic one. So, McInerney said she considered the testimony of principals in the case that Marimow was hired not by the company publisher, but by the two-member management committee, Katz and Norcross.

Since Katz wasn't consulted on Marimow's firing, McInerney concluded, he was deprived of his right to vote on the matter, and the decision must be reversed.

Norcross and his allied owners have said in a statement they'll appeal the decision. The statement said that returning  Marimow "as a lame duck editor...will have the effect of risking chaos in the company, restoring an editor who consistently resisted needed changes to the paper and who is in open conflict with the Publisher."

You can read the judge's order here.

The statement by Norcross and his allied owners follows:

"Interstate General Media and General American Holdings, representing George E. Norcross, III, will be filing an appeal on an expedited basis of today's decision to reinstate Bill Marimow.

The decision to return Marimow to the Inquirer as a lame duck editor — his contract ends April 30th — will have the effect of risking chaos in the company, restoring an editor who consistently resisted needed changes to the paper and who is in open conflict with the Publisher, Bob Hall, who the court decreed will remain in his position. The ruling ensures that every newsroom decision will require the joint agreement of the Managing Members, subjecting the company to paralysis.

Minority owner Lewis Katz, who brought the lawsuit, testified under oath that he believed it appropriate for an owner to be able to influence the operations of the newsroom, including the hiring and firing of journalists, with no set standards for how far or how often they can reach in to influence coverage. That would render the non-interference pledge meaningless because the power to fire is the power to influence coverage. Given that Nancy Phillips, Katz'
girlfriend, testified under oath that she created an "official version" of how Marimow was hired, it is difficult to understand how they can continue to assert they are protecting the 'integrity' of journalism.

We believe today's decision is wrong and will harm the journalistic independence and operations of the newsroom. In newspapers across the country, it is the Publisher who has the right to make personnel decisions, including the hiring and firing of the editor as Publisher Bob Hall did when he removed Bill Marimow as editor of the Inquirer.

The court affirmed that Hall was the Publisher and his authority to remove Marimow should have likewise been affirmed."

Here's a statement released by Katz and Lenfest's attorney, Dick Sprague:

"Judge McInerney's ruling today is a very important victory for journalistic independence and integrity. The ruling grants the preliminary injunction to reinstate Bill Marimow as editor in chief of The Philadelphia Inquirer, restoring the Pulitzer Prize-winning leadership for the daily newspaper in the country's fifth largest market. We were resolute about standing up for journalistic independence in this matter and about ending the attempts to erode that independence by certain members of the current ownership group. We applaud Judge McInerney for upholding the voting rights as set out in IGM's ownership agreement, and we are hopeful that the great reporters and staff of a truly great newspaper can again move beyond distraction and focus on the work they love to do on behalf of the people of Philadelphia and beyond."