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Group Fights to Save Newspaper Threatened by Suit


SIERRA MADRE — A group of citizens is rallying to save the 87-year-old Sierra Madre News, a tiny community weekly that is struggling to pay for its legal fight against an age-discrimination lawsuit by Councilman George Maurer, a former employee.

Maurer, 70, a two-term Sierra Madre council member and a founder of the city's emergency response team, contends that he was fired in July, 1990, from his job as print shop foreman because of his age. Employed by the News for 28 years, he is seeking $200,000 in damages.

"He is suing me for more than the newspaper has made since I bought it," said Jan Reed, owner and publisher.

She said the lawsuit has cost her more than $40,000 since Maurer sued two years ago and has left her unable to cover the newspaper's other debts, including back taxes.

The 4,000-circulation weekly, which serves Sierra Madre and Arcadia, may fold by fall, Reed said. She said she and her husband have borrowed more than $100,000 to keep the paper in business.

Maurer claims he is being made the scapegoat for the paper's financial troubles and said Reed is exaggerating the cost of the legal fight.

Although Maurer lost the first round of the legal battle when a court-appointed arbitrator ruled in favor of Reed on May 3, his attorney filed an appeal, and a jury trial has been set for Nov. 15 in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The 30-member Friends of the Sierra Madre News formed after Reed wrote a front-page story about the newspaper's plight two weeks ago. The group plans to hold fund-raisers and hopes to persuade Maurer to drop the case. The group has called a meeting today at Memorial Park to set goals.

"Without the newspaper there wouldn't be a way to communicate with each other about events," member Douglas Hayes said.

At Tuesday's council meeting, Carroll Brown, a member of the residents group, called for Maurer's resignation over the lawsuit.

Maurer, who now works as maitre d' at a Sierra Madre cafe, replied that he had no newspaper to tell his side of story.

He said he will not drop the lawsuit. "I've had a lot of response to the lawsuit and only one was negative."

Reed contends that Maurer left by mutual agreement after they disagreed over his use of company time and equipment for council work.

Reed, who is 64, denies discriminating against Maurer, saying: "I had at least two other employees older than him. We're not a bunch of young chicks here."

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