Randall Williams was back in Alabama's Montgomery County Circuit Court earlier this month for a reversal hearing on a December 19 verdict that found that Williams had violated his noncompete clause when he established NewSouth Books after being fired from Black Belt Publishing (News, July 3, 2000). The presiding judge in the case levied a $100,000 fine against Williams and issued an injunction that prohibits him from working in publishing anywhere in the U.S. for four years from the date of his firing.

After being dismissed from Black Belt (now known as River City Publishing) by new investors for allegedly poor financial management, Williams filed a suit charging the board with wrongful firing as well as public defamation. When NewSouth opened shortly afterward, he was countersued by the board for breaking an agreement not to compete with them for four years. But while the jury found Williams had violated the noncompete agreement, the judge agreed he was wrongly fired since the board violated an operational agreement with him.

Williams's 30% ownership of Black Belt rolled over into a 30% ownership of River City. He describes the mixed ruling as "bizarre" and confusing. "On the one hand, my claim to have been wrongly fired was validated and I'm permitted to remain a managing partner at River City, should I ever choose to exercise it. But on the other, I'm denied earning a livelihood in publishing anywhere, not just in Alabama." Nonetheless, he's still working at NewSouth, though not as editor-in-chief; he's managing the 1,000-square-foot NewSouth Bookstore on the ground floor of the small company's building in downtown Montgomery.

The judge's decision is expected within the month, but if it is unchanged, Williams's attorney, Jimmy Jacobs, will seek reversal at the state level, in the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. Meanwhile, Suzanne La Rosa, cofounder of NewSouth, noted that the company continues to be "open for business as usual, although we miss Randall's input in our day-to-day operations. But our spring list is on track to meet all pub dates, and the fall list is in the final planning stage."