A lawsuit filed last year against Alaska Dispatch Publishing LLC and its owner, Alice Rogoff, by former Alaska Dispatch News editor Tony Hopfinger will proceed to a jury trial.
A judge on Friday rejected a motion by Rogoff that key claims in the lawsuit be dismissed.
The suit hinges on a napkin, on which Rogoff wrote in April 2014, "I agree to pay Tony $100K at end of each calendar year (beginning '14) for 10 years."
Hopfinger's suit alleges Rogoff breached a promise to pay him that money in exchange for his ownership share in the company.
"Rogoff contends … the parties never reduced their agreement down to a final, signed writing stating the material terms," Anchorage Superior Court Judge Andrew Guidi wrote in a 21-page decision.
Guidi also wrote that "there is strong evidence that from the time Rogoff put pen to napkin on April 18, 2014, the two parties behaved as if they had an agreement." He pointed to Rogoff making a payment of $100,000 to Hopfinger on Jan. 1, 2015.
Later efforts to formally draw up the agreement failed, Guidi wrote, the relationship between Hopfinger and Rogoff "soured," and "after Rogoff announced she would cease further payments," Hopfinger filed the suit.
Rogoff, the judge wrote, asserts that the alleged contract was primarily for incentive pay so Hopfinger would stay on as an employee.
Rogoff insists that "she never would have agreed to pay $1 million to buy out Hopfinger's share of the company, or — at least — not merely for that reason," Guidi wrote.
Hopfinger asserts that this is "a fable invented to justify Rogoff's breach," the judge's decision said.
Rogoff's motion wanted the court to find that she and Hopfinger did not have a contract, or that it was unenforceable.
Because the two parties have "conflicting evidence" on whether a contract was formed and the nature of it, Guidi denied Rogoff's motion.
Hopfinger co-founded Alaska Dispatch Publishing in 2008 with his then-wife Amanda Coyne. Rogoff bought a majority of the company in 2009, and Coyne and Hopfinger each retained 5 percent. In 2014, Alaska Dispatch announced it would purchase the Anchorage Daily News from The McClatchy Co., a big media shakeup in the Last Frontier. Hopfinger has since relocated to Chicago.
The trial is currently set for March 2018.