Lester Black
When I wrote about Tacoma Weekly’s 20-year history of unpaid bills and wage theft last year, one of the many stories I told was the plight of the Grand Cinema. The indie movie theater told me Tacoma Weekly’s publisher, John Weymer, had taken nearly $10,000 for a printing job in 2017 that he never delivered. Weymer told me the Grand Cinema had their facts wrong—it was the movie theater that cancelled the job and should be blamed for the deal gone bad.

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On Monday, a judge in Tacoma sided with the Grand Cinema, awarding the theater $5,000 and adding another legal loss in the Weekly’s long, documented history of not paying their bills and defrauding their employees.

Philip Cowan, the cinema’s executive director, told me he didn’t expect Weymer to pay the judgment.

“No, but at least it’s there and he has 30 days to pay it and then we’ll go from there if he doesn’t,” Cowan said in a phone call.

Weymer did not agree to be interviewed for this story but sent an e-mailed statement that claimed they were “very happy” with losing their small claims case.

“We agreed to return The Grand’s deposit from the beginning. On numerous occasions we asked Mr. Cowan to meet with us to work out an amicable agreement and restart a very long partnership of support between The Grand and Tacoma Weekly,” said the statement, signed by Weymer and his managing partner Matt Nagle.

Cowan said there was “nothing accurate” in Weymer and Nagle’s statement about the case. The theater’s director said he had contacted the paper numerous times over the last two years including a registered letter yet neither Nagle nor Weymer would agree to meet and settle the deal.

“Wow is the first thing that pops into my mind,” Cowan said after I sent them the paper’s statement. “They have a check book and could have returned any amount at any time.”

Tacoma! MELEAH REARDON PHOTOGRAPHY / GETTY

Grand Cinema’s court case is one of the smaller monetary claims that Weymer has faced over the years. Weymer has been forced to pay over $170,000 in various lawsuits against him and his business since 1995, including a $139,675.48 judgment against him from one of his printing companies and a $29,922.24 judgment against him from one of his landlords. Weymer also has a tarnished track record with paying employees. Weymer has been been forced to pay $9,157.06 in wage theft claims since 2016 and he is appealing two other claims that raise the total amount to $12,991.88, according to the Washington Department of Labor and Industries. I spoke with over a dozen people about their experiences working with or for Weymer in my report last November.

Cowan told me last year that the theater had not pursued their case against Weymer because they estimated that the legal costs of hiring an attorney would quickly become more expensive than the $10,000 they said they were owed from Weymer. The company only pursued their case after they realized they could take Weymer to small claims court, where individuals argue their case without any attorneys present.

“The downside of small claims is that it’s a $5,000 limit and he took about $10,000 from us, but at least it gets a judgment against him,” Cowan said.

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Many of the people I spoke with last year said Weymer threatened them and physically intimidated them when they asked for money they said they were owed. The publisher acted similarly on Monday, confronting Cowan with a threatening tone following Monday’s court decision, according to Cowan.

“He got very terse with me very quickly and I walked away without saying anything,” Cowan said.

Weymer did not return a request for comment regarding his behavior following Monday’s hearing.