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WJAL ordered to pay $414,000

June 26, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

A Chambersburg, Pa., television station has been ordered to pay almost $414,000 to an organization that purchased its debt seven years ago, according to court records.

Washington County Circuit Court Judge Frederick C. Wright III ruled on June 14 in favor of Hagerstown-based Four States Christian Missions, which had sued WJAL-TV Channel 68 and Good Companion Broadcasting.

WJAL borrowed $850,000 from First National Bank in 1987 to start the Christian-oriented television station. In December 1992, after the bank declared the station in default, Four States purchased the loan for $413,753, according to court records.

The station's attorneys argued in court filings that Four States did not request a payment for five years on the money, which "was in fact a gift."

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Four States' lawyers scoffed at that interpretation, which they called "whimsical," "entirely imaginary" and "wishful thinking," according to court records.

"The defendants' claim ... is Four States' reward for its good manners in failing to press defendants for repayment at a time in which they struggled in financial turmoil," Four States argued in court papers. "It's chutzpah at its most exquisite level."

M.S. "Buddy" Merrick, vice president and general manager of the station, was unavailable for comment on Friday. Jerry E. Jacobs, president of Good Companion, did not return phone calls.

Bruce L. "Sonny" Shank, executive director of Four States Christian Missions, referred questions to the organization's lawyer, who could not be reached for comment.

The decision is another blow to a station that has had a brief but rocky history.

The station was founded in 1987 by a group of businessmen that included the late James Resh, who was the head of the Union Rescue Mission in Hagerstown. The original idea was to air Christian and family programming.

In 1992, the station added a local newscast.

But financial instability has plagued the station. It landed in bankruptcy court in 1993 and faced a complaint a year later by workers who claimed they had not been paid.

Last summer, the station ended its affiliation with the WB network and launched a local news program.

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