June 16, 2011 at 2:27 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Metro Weekly publisher settles $1 million lawsuit

Metro Weekly — a local gay magazine published by Jansi LLC, which is owned by Randy Shulman — and Post-Newsweek Media, Inc., the company that owns the Washington Post, reached a settlement agreement on April 28 over a lawsuit in which Post-Newsweek alleged that Jansi and Shulman engaged in fraud to avoid paying a Post-Newsweek-owned printing company $85,000 for printing services.

The settlement came six days after a D.C. Superior Court judge presiding over the lawsuit denied a motion for summary judgment by Jansi and Shulman that called for dismissing the fraud charge on grounds that insufficient evidence existed to move forward with the charge.

The settlement agreement also came just over seven months after Judge Ramsey Johnson denied a separate motion by Jansi and Shulman seeking dismissal of the lawsuit.

The terms of the settlement between the two parties could not be found in the court records, indicating the parties chose to keep the terms confidential as is the case with many lawsuits.

Paul S. Thaler, the attorney representing Post-Newsweek, and John W. Karr and William G. McLain, the attorneys representing Jansi and Shulman, did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment on the case and the settlement.

McLain faxed a message to the Blade on May 27 saying Jansi and Shulman would consider responding to a Blade inquiry in writing if such a response was “deemed appropriate” by him but the magazine has a policy of not providing interviews to Blade reporters.

Jansi and Shulman’s attorneys have argued that the lawsuit was without merit, saying the printing debt was incurred by Isosceles Publishing, Inc., the corporation that owned and operated Metro Weekly up until November 2007.

The magazine’s attorneys have argued that a new corporation called Jansi LLC entered into a licensing agreement with Isosceles to publish and operate Metro Weekly beginning in November 2007. They maintain that Jansi, as a separate corporate entity, was not responsible for the debts and liabilities incurred when Metro Weekly was published and operated by Isosceles.

A past due bill of $85,000 from Comprint, a Gaithersburg, Md., company owned by Post-Newsweek, was for printing services incurred by Metro Weekly during the time Isosceles published the magazine, the lawyers have argued.

In its lawsuit filed in July 2010, Post-Newsweek charged Jansi LLC and Shulman, one of Jansi’s two shareholders, with breach of contract, saying they were responsible for the printing debt with Comprint.

The lawsuit also charged Jansi and Shulman with fraud for allegedly entering into the licensing agreement with Isosceles for the alleged purpose of evading debts and liabilities.

“Upon information and belief, Mr. Shulman, Jansi, and Isosceles entered into the 2007 License Agreement with the specific intention to evade Isosceles’ creditors while continuing to publish, and reap revenue from, Metro Weekly,” the lawsuit said. “As a direct result of the defendant’s fraud, plaintiff suffered damages in a sum to be proved at trial but expected to exceed $1,000,000,” the lawsuit said in its request for punitive damages.

‘Nearly $656,000’ in tax liens

In its court brief opposing Jansi and Shulman’s motion to dismiss the fraud charge, Post-Newsweek attorney Thaler cited Shulman’s testimony in a deposition in February in which Shulman acknowledged that he and Isosceles had yet to resolve an outstanding tax obligation with the IRS.

News of Isoceles’ tax liabilities surfaced last year when the Washington Business Journal reported that, “nearly $656,000 in federal and state tax liens have been filed against Isosceles.” Records from the D.C. Recorder of Deeds, which keeps track of tax liens, show that 21 federal, D.C., or unemployment tax liens had been filed against Isosceles Publishing between 1996 and 2010.

Thaler stated in his brief opposing Jansi and Shulman’s motion to dismiss the fraud charge that the tax liens were an indication that the licensing agreement between Isosceles and Jansi was conceived to enable Metro Weekly to evade its debts, a development, he said, that supports Post-Newsweek’s fraud claim.

In Jansi and Shulman’s August 2010 motion for summary judgment seeking to dismiss the lawsuit, Karr argued that Post-Newsweek’s breach of contract charge concerning the printing debt was invalid because, among other things, Post-Newsweek had brought the same charge in a separate lawsuit in 2009.

A judge ruled in Post-Newsweek’s favor in the earlier lawsuit and ordered Isosceles to pay the printing debt. Isosceles started making payments for the initial printing debt, which exceeded $100,000, for a while before stopping all payments. That prompted Post-Newsweek to file the second lawsuit last July, Thaler said in court papers.

Karr argued in his dismissal motion that the legal concept of “claim preclusion” or “issue preclusion” prohibits “relitigation in a subsequent proceeding of the same claim between the same parties or their privies.”

He also argued that Post-Newsweek failed to provide in its lawsuit the required “elements” indicating that fraud might have taken place to a sufficient degree that a fraud claim could move forward to trial.

D.C. Superior Court Judge Ramsey Johnson rejected those assertions, stating in a Sept. 13, 2010 ruling denying the motion for dismissal of the lawsuit that he was “satisfied that the Plaintiff’s complaint for fraud has been sufficiently pled.”

In its separate motion filed Feb. 23, 2011 seeking dismissal of the fraud charge, Karr reiterated his claim that Post-Newsweek failed to provide sufficient grounds for proving fraud. Karr cited the testimony of Post-Newsweek official Garland Christmas in a deposition in which Christmas stated he was not familiar with the specific details of the lawsuit’s allegation that Metro Weekly and Shulman engaged in fraud through the licensing agreement between Isosceles and Jansi.

Karr argued in his brief that Christmas, the Post-Newsweek official in charge of debt collection for the company, also could not provide information to support Post-Newsweek’s claim that it suffered damages exceeding $1 million due to the non-payment of the printing debt or the licensing deal between Isosceles and Jansi.

In his opposition motion for Post-Newsweek, Thaler said the latest lawsuit was aimed at “asking the court to pierce the corporate veil and find that defendants Randy Shulman and Jansi LLC are the functional ‘alter egos’ of Isosceles and should therefore be held liable for the debt owed to Plaintiff.”

Business funds for personal use

In his opposition motion, Thaler added, “Mr. Shulman further indicated [in a deposition] that the licensing arrangement was the ‘only way’ Metro Weekly could continue to be published in light of the tax lien against Isosceles…Shulman and his business partners frequently commingled funds between Jansi and Isosceles. Shulman has also withdrawn funds from Isosceles and Jansi for personal use.”

Shulman was asked during depositions about various charges made to a company ATM card. “If you go down the purchases apparently using the ATM card you’ll see not just the Pet Smart and Martin’s Wine but a series of purchases at Safeway, RiteAid, Target and Subway as well as something called 14k Restaurant, Starbucks. Is it your testimony that all of these were for Jansi or mistakes by you as you’ve indicated you sometimes do,” a Post-Newsweek lawyer asked.

“Some could be mistakes I would think that – I know for a fact the 14K would be a business – that would be a business – that was probably for coffee for a business meeting,” Shulman replied.

In response to questions about purchases with the Jansi card made at other places, such as the Virginia Market convenience store near his home, Shulman said:

“ … I’m looking this over and I’m looking at the cluster of time and it’s very likely at this time that, aside from the thing that I was – quite honestly, I probably had absolutely no money in my own personal account. I was actually utilizing Jansi funds that were there at the time to help support me.”

“So you used the ATM for Jansi,” the lawyer replied.

“I did use the ATM for Jansi to make my purchases during that period.”

In his April 22 ruling denying Jansi and Shulman’s summary judgment motion to dismiss the fraud charge, Judge Johnson stated, “The court has already concluded that Plaintiff’s fraud claim was sufficiently pled when it denied Defendants’ Motion for Failure to State a Claim on Sept. 13, 2010.  With regard to the instant motion, the Court does not find that the issue of fraud, at least in this case, lends itself to summary judgment.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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