Business & Economy

Orange County Register owner files for bankruptcy protection

In this Dec. 27, 2012, file photo, arts writer Richard Chang, center, works on his computer in the newsroom of the Orange County Register in Santa Ana, California. Freedom Communications Inc., owner of the Orange County Register, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
In this Dec. 27, 2012, file photo, arts writer Richard Chang, center, works on his computer in the newsroom of the Orange County Register in Santa Ana, California. Freedom Communications Inc., owner of the Orange County Register, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Jae C. Hong/AP

Freedom Communications Inc., owner of the Orange County Register, has filed for bankruptcy, and the newspaper's publisher said he plans to lead a bid to purchase the troubled company.

Freedom filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court's Central District of California, the Santa Ana-based Register reported Sunday.

Rich Mirman, Freedom's chief executive and publisher, and other local investors plan to reorganize the company's finances and assume ownership.

Mirman said he expects the bankruptcy case to have no impact on day-to-day operations. Staffing will remain steady and payments to employees, key vendors and partners will continue, he said.

"We're turning the page and starting a new chapter," Mirman said. "We've gone through a few rocky years and we need to redefine ourselves."

The company expects to turn a profit in 2015 after losing $40 million-plus in the previous two years, he said.

Mirman and his team hope the bankruptcy, Freedom's second filing in six years, will retool large debts incurred since Boston investors Aaron Kushner and Eric Spitz bought the company three years ago. The plan would end Kushner's ownership stake in Freedom; Spitz will remain an investor and company chairman.

Mirman, who has both bachelor's and master's degrees in mathematics, is a former executive at Nevada-based casino and resort operator Harrah's Entertainment, since renamed Caesars Entertainment.

Freedom was sold to Kushner, Spitz and their 2100 Trust in 2012.

The company concentrated on its print product at a time when other newspapers were focusing online. The new owners doubled the Register's newsroom staff, added new sections, bought the Riverside Press-Enterprise and launched a new paper, the Los Angeles Register, which was seen as a potential competitor to the Los Angeles Times but ceased publication after just five months.

The Register's Sunday story noted that Mirman may have competition for purchasing the company:

Mirman would give only scant details on his bid, saying it involves investors paying cash, assuming certain debts, and retaining and financially maintaining the employee pension program. The full bid will be revealed in the bankruptcy process.

Mirman said he thinks his bid has a good shot, but he’s keenly aware that others – such as Tribune Publishing, owner of the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune – may be interested in the Register and Press-Enterprise.

“There’s always that chance,” Mirman says of being outbid. “It’s the court’s obligation to seek out the highest bid.”

This story was updated from a previous version.