A judge on Wednesday signed off on a settlement between Nancy Silberkleit and Jon Goldwater, the co-CEOs of Archie Comic Publications, even as Goldwater's nieces told the judge in court papers that they think both chief executives' "hands are dirty."
Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich said the nieces weren't in a legal position to weigh in on the settlement, but she noted that they could file a suit of their own. Their lawyer had no immediate comment afterward on whether they would.
The settlement ends — at least for now— a bitter and sometimes bizarre fight at the company that produces the congenial, more than 70-year-old comic that follows Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and others through dating and other teenage adventures.
The settlement details are confidential, but Silberkleit lawyer Howard D. Simmons said the pact restored her reputation and her post at Archie. Silberkleit has been banned from the company's headquarters in Mamaroneck since the litigation reached a heated point this winter.
"Nancy Silberkleit and Jon Goldwater are no longer in an adversarial position, and they are beginning their working relationship anew," Simmons said. "She's thrilled to have settled this extremely upsetting matter."
An Archie spokesman and a lawyer representing both the company and Goldwater didn't immediately return calls on the settlement, reached after mediation.
Debuted in 1941, carrot-topped Archie Andrews has percolated into pop culture from comics pages to airwaves. The fictional characters' band, the Archies, had a 1969 hit with "Sugar, Sugar"; the Archie-related "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" TV series had a popular run in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Goldwater is a son of one of the company's founders; Silberkleit is another founder's daughter-in-law. They became co-CEOs in 2009.
Silberkleit, a former elementary school art teacher, was to oversee scholastic and live theatrical endeavours; she will continue to do so under the settlement, her lawyer said. Goldwater, who had been a rock and pop music manager, would have the final say on everything else, according to her employment contract.
Each controls 50 per cent of the company — Goldwater by managing his own 25 per cent share and another 25 per cent that belongs to a trust set up by his late half brother, Richard. The nieces are the trust's beneficiaries.
Archie has made some attention-getting strides under Jon Goldwater and Silberkleit. The perennially dating Archie got married — to both his competing sweethearts, Betty and Veronica, in separate storylines that extended into the future. The comic also introduced its first openly gay character, Kevin Keller.
But friction brewed behind the scenes and spilled over into court last summer.
Goldwater and some staffers said Silberkleit was an erratic troublemaker who sexually harassed employees with off-colour remarks, made bad business moves and even paraded a former football player around the office to intimidate people. He asked a court to strip her of her role at the company.
"An iconic American company is in serious danger of failing and being liquidated" if Silberkleit stayed, Goldwater said in court papers last winter.
She said Goldwater was a chauvinist who demeaned her, kept her in the dark about Archie Comic Publications' finances and invented allegations to try to force her out and seize control of the company.
"I'm the one being harassed and abused there," she said at a Jan. 31 hearing. She claimed defamation and sought $100 million in damages.
Both CEOs denied the others' allegations.
Jon Goldwater's three nieces, Lisa, Taylor and Summer Goldwater, initially stood on the sidelines of the court fight. They thought their uncle was acting in their best interest, though their trust hadn't gotten a penny from the company since he became a CEO, their lawyer, Jessica S. Rutherford, wrote in court papers filed Wednesday.
But the women decided to involve themselves this winter after becoming suspicious that their uncle was misusing the company's assets — and trying to keep them unaware of it, the papers said.
The nieces also are taking aim at Silberkleit, pointing to their uncle's allegations. The settlement, their lawyer wrote, amounts to back-scratching among "two directors who have been stealing from the company, or aiding and abetting each other's theft."
The nieces' court papers urged the court not to accept the deal unless they got access to the details, a look at all the company's financial records and an agreement that the company and trust would be reimbursed for the lawsuit costs, among other conditions.
The judge turned them down but said, "If the Goldwater estate wants to go forward with its own lawsuit ... it can get relief that way."
Simmons had no immediate comment on the nieces' allegations.
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