George E. Norcross III said Monday that he had bought out one of his partners in the company that owns The Inquirer, becoming the majority owner of the newspaper as he and other partners battle in court over control of the company.
In a statement from his spokesman, Norcross said his General American Holdings firm had bought the shares of Krishna P. Singh, one of his allies in the ongoing ownership feud. Norcross now owns about 52 percent of Interstate General Media, which operates The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com.
It was unclear how the purchase could shape the ongoing legal battle for the company. Singh, founder of a technology firm, had been a largely silent partner in the dispute pitting Norcross against Lewis Katz and H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, who control roughly 42 percent of the company.
"This changes nothing," said Jay Devine, a spokesman for Katz. "The court has ruled on the manner in which the company is governed, and that has nothing to do with the percentage of ownership of stock. The company is managed by two managing partners, both of whom must agree before action can be taken."
Those managing partners are Katz and Norcross, each of whom was to equal authority over IGM's major business decisions.
"That is still the case," Lenfest said Monday. "This wouldn't change any balance of power."
Lenfest, the IGM board chairman, said that neither Singh nor Norcross informed him of the sale before it was announced.
Singh's son, Krishna P. Singh II, who guided the family's involvement through its firm Tequesta Investment L.L.C. and was a managing director of IGM, also declined to comment.
Norcross did not reveal terms of the sale. He and Krishna Singh paid $16 million each for a 26.18 percent share of the company in April 2012.
Singh is the founder of Holtec International Inc., a Marlton company that develops equipment and systems for power plants. Norcross, a Democratic Party power broker in South Jersey, made his fortune as an insurance executive.
The other two partners, businessmen William P. Hankowsky and Joseph Buckelew, own a combined 5.1 percent of the company.
"The purchase of the shares by General American demonstrates the ongoing commitment of Messrs. Norcross, Hankowsky, and Buckelew to the long-term health and vitality of IGM, which has made a significant turnaround in the 20 months since the papers and Philly.com were purchased," Norcross' statement said in part.
"After years of poor management that led to bankruptcy, layoffs, and jeopardized pensions, the company has gone from losing almost $50,000 a day to being on the path to profitability."
Howard Gensler, president of the Newspaper Guild of Philadelphia, said the union has been skeptical of claims that better management is behind the company's drive toward profitability. He cited Guild concessions that he said equal nearly $17,000 per day.
"However, if this purchase somehow helps to alleviate the ownership gridlock, that would be a good thing," Gensler said.
"We want and need to be able to move ahead and protect the great franchises all of the owners purchased."
Hankowsky, Buckelew, Norcross, and Singh were on the same side of the long-simmering dispute that came to light Oct. 7, when publisher Robert J. Hall fired Inquirer editor William K. Marimow.
Katz and Lenfest filed a lawsuit on Oct. 10, contesting Marimow's firing. Katz opposed the firing, and asserted that it violated his right as a member of the two-man management committee.
Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Patricia McInerney ruled in his favor on Nov. 22 and reinstated Marimow. Lawyers for Norcross and Hall have appealed that decision to Superior Court, which rejected their first request for an expedited review this month.
Hall said Monday that he applauded Norcross' purchase of Singh's share because it showed a long-term commitment to the company.
Before firing Marimow, Hall had switched to a part-time role at the company. It's unclear whether he will remain after his contract expires Dec. 31. Katz and Lenfest asked the judge to remove Hall from the post, but she declined.
"I don't think anything has been decided at all," Hall said. "I'm going day by day."
Asked if he wanted to continue in his role, Hall said: "I'm here as a part-time publisher. I hope they do a search and find a replacement."
Inquirer staff writers Joseph N. DiStefano and Chris Mondics contributed to this article.