Register sale goes before federal bankruptcy judge

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A federal bankruptcy judge will consider on Monday Digital First Media's proposed purchase of the Orange County Register and the Press-Enterprise of Riverside.

Freedom Communications decided over the weekend to sell the newspapers to Digital First, which owns the Los Angeles Daily News and eight other daily papers in the greater Los Angeles area, after a judge blocked a higher bid by the owner of the Los Angeles Times.

Tribune Publishing Co. last week won a bankruptcy auction for the newspapers with a bid of $56 million. But hours later, the U.S. Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit saying that if the deal went through, Tribune would have a virtual monopoly by owning the four largest daily newspapers in Southern California.

In addition to the Los Angeles Times, Tribune owns The San Diego Union-Tribune, which it purchased last year.

Late Friday, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order halting the deal.

Freedom attorney William Lobel said the restraining order makes it unlikely Tribune will be able to close the deal before March 31, when temporary private financing that's keeping the two newspapers afloat dries up.

Digital First offered as much as $53 million, according to court filings.

Freedom filed for bankruptcy protection in November. It followed a series of layoffs and buyouts after an aggressive expansion of print journalism that included starting daily papers in Los Angeles and Long Beach and buying the Press-Enterprise of Long Beach for $27 million. Both new papers went under.

The Associated Press is among the creditors in Freedom's bankruptcy proceedings.