Sinclair sues ex-executive, rival over his option to buy stations

Cockeysville firm calls own pact `unenforceable'


January 20, 2000|By Mark Ribbing | Mark Ribbing,SUN STAFF

Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. said yesterday that it has sued a former executive and a rival broadcasting company over the rights to a group of St. Louis radio and television stations.

The Cockeysville company filed suit in Baltimore County Circuit Court against Emmis Communications Corp. and Barry Baker, who resigned as Sinclair's head of radio and television operations in February to become president and chief operating officer of USA Networks Inc.

Baker had an agreement with Sinclair that allowed him to buy the company's stations in either St. Louis or Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C. He chose St. Louis, and Emmis announced in June that it had bought the purchase rights to Sinclair's holdings in that city -- six radio stations and one television station -- from Baker.

In its lawsuit, Sinclair said Emmis was not eligible to buy the St. Louis station purchase option from Baker. Sinclair also said that its agreement with Baker regarding the stations "is unenforceable due to vagueness."

Emmis said yesterday that it will file its own suit against Sinclair for "refusing to negotiate in good faith." Kate Healey, an Emmis spokeswoman, said the two companies had been in negotiations over the valuation of the St. Louis properties, and were about $20 million apart before an arbitrator fixed the value of the stations at $366.5 million in November.

"Sinclair has been negotiating under the terms of the contract for the last six months," Healey said. "If they had problems or concerns about the validity of the option they gave Mr. Baker, they should have been raised when we bought the option."

It has been a litigious few days for Sinclair, which filed suit in Baltimore Circuit Court on Friday against a New York company for allegedly breaching an advertising contract.

Sinclair has sued Bohbot Entertainment & Media Inc. and two of its subsidiaries for a total of $84 million over what Sinclair said is Bohbot's failure to buy enough advertising on Sinclair television stations.

Sinclair had agreed to carry a Bohbot subsidiary's children's programming. In return, another Bohbot division was to pay at least $16 million for advertising on Sinclair stations by Dec. 31.

Sinclair alleged that less than half that amount was paid, resulting in a "material and ongoing" breach of the contract. Sinclair declined to discuss any of the lawsuits. Lawyers for the Bohbot subsidiaries also refused to comment.

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