Alice Rogoff loses to former business partner




After deliberating for less than a day, an Anchorage Superior Court jury has decided that failed Alaska Dispatch News owner Alice Rogoff needs to pay up on a $1 million, napkin promise to former editor Tony Hopfinger.

“Vindication” was the word Hopfinger used to describe his feeling after the verdict. But, he added, “this never had to get to this point. We should have never gotten to this point.

“I’m just happy that 12 people found in favor of me. It wasn’t just 10.”

A jury of nine men and three women needed 10 votes to act on any of the claims in front of them. The jury rejected the idea that the napkin had formed a binding contract, although both Hopfinger and Rogoff had testified they thought they had an agreement.

But the body ruled in favor of Hopfinger on a claim of what is called “promissory estoppel,” basically a legal way of saying people who make promises have an obligation to keep them.

Hopfinger co-founded the now-gone, online-newsite Alaska Dispatch in 2008. Millionaire East Coast socialite Rogoff, who was moving to Alaska, bought a 90 percent interest in 2009 and pumped in millions of dollars to try to build a news organization to challenge the Anchorage Daily News, the state’s long-dominant newspaper.

Within four years  – as Alaska Dispatch online traffic steadily climbed from nothing to within sight of that of the Daily New/, The McClatchy Company met with Rogoff and Hopfinger in the company’s Sacramento, Calif. offices to talk about some sort of deal for its only Alaska publication.

At the time, the Dispatch was still only about a third the size of ADN, but McClatchy profit margins at the newspaper were in a downward trend, and the company was saddled with massive debt.

When McClatchy got Rogoff to bite on a $34 million price tag – those party to the negotiations said Rogoff showed little interest in actually negotiating – McClatchy moved quickly to close the deal.

As that was underway, Rogoff told Hopfinger the plan was to drain his old company of assets and roll them into a new entity – the Alaska Dispatch News/ She asked him to help as president and executive editor of the new newspaper/online news organization, and offered him stock in the company.

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Hopfinger wins


  1. In this age of legal sophistication and technology, it’s hard for me to believe that a binding contract on a throw away napkin can be enforced by jury verdict. But apparently it can. Next time, order your drinks with a cloth napkin and save a $million.

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