Condé Nast is willing to defang its countersuit against Stefano Tonchi in order to keep specifics of a bumpy sale of W magazine to itself.
In a letter to the New York judge overseeing the lawsuit filed last year, lawyers for Condé’s parent company Advance Publications Inc. asked to drop two of its claims against Tonchi, who was forced out as the editor of W when it was sold last year to Surface Media. Tonchi quickly sued for $1 million and Conde countersued in a strongly worded complaint.
W’s existence under Surface was rocky from the start and almost snuffed out as the coronavirus pandemic hit and the magazine was essentially shut down almost immediately. After a quick search for a buyer, a strange cadre of celebrities agreed last month to purchase the magazine for an undisclosed sum and W has resumed operation in a partnership with Bustle Digital Group. Any money from the sale, however, is said to be going directly to Condé, which had yet to be paid a dime for the magazine from Surface and its owner Marc Lotenberg.
Now Condé seems to want to put the W saga behind it. It’s offering to drop claims of breach of confidentiality and breach of employment agreement, both central to its case against Tonchi. The publisher also noted that it’s “no longer seeking damages” against Tonchi over allegations that his dealings with potential buyers of W led to an ultimate decline in the sale price of at least $15 million. Other claims it is still pursuing are breach of loyalty and that it terminated Tonchi “for cause.”
Among the reasons it gave for wishing to avoid discovery on its claims, Condé said the process would “reveal confidential business information” and that without the claims, it could “expedite” requested depositions. Set to be deposed, or give official witness testimony, are Anna Wintour, Condé’s chief artistic director and still editor in chief of Vogue; Robert Sauerberg, former Condé chief executive officer; JoAnn Murray, former head of human resources; Brad Stoutenburgh, head of investments for Advance, and Lynn Hirschberg, a longtime editor at W. All depositions are set to be complete by the end of October.
Lani Adler, counsel for Tonchi, did not say how she intends to respond to the letter, but thinks Advance has “delayed and now they wish to take out these claims because, I believe, they’ll lose on them because they’ve been unable to establish damages.”
“Just getting rid of the contract issue is not going to solve for Condé its problems in this case,” she added.
A spokesman for Condé said, “While we are confident in the merit of our case against Mr. Tonchi, we have made a decision to withdraw certain claims in an effort to move the litigation forward.”
Tonchi, in his earlier request for discovery, demanded that Condé hand over any and all documents pertaining to the sale of W and its financial performance going back to 2009 when Tonchi took over as editor in chief. He also asked for further documents showing the final sale price to Surface, as well as correspondence from key figures at W. These include Wintour and Hirschberg; Edward Enninful, who was an editor at W before being promoted to editor in chief of Vogue Britain, and Sara Moonves, an editor at W who was promoted to editor in chief when Surface took over.
Also requested are communications between Sauerberg and a host of people he allegedly discussed W’s “financial performance” with, meaning they likely expressed some interest in buying the magazine. Those people include Jeffrey Katzenberg, cofounder and ceo of Quibi, and Francesco Costa, founder of Spring Studios.
“Defendants still believe that both counterclaims have merit, but, by making this application, seek to expedite the litigation to address what they consider to be a clear case of termination of employment for cause and breach of duty of loyalty and fiduciary duty,” lawyers for Advance said.
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