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Bay Guardian Defeats SF Weekly, Again

An appellate court upholds the Guardian's $21 million judgment against the SF Weekly and dismisses the Express from the case. Will a settlement save the Weekly?

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In what seems like an unending streak of legal victories, the San Francisco Bay Guardian defeated the SF Weekly in court yet again last week when a three-judge panel unanimously upheld the Guardian's $21 million-plus judgment against its main rival. The ruling, if affirmed by the California Supreme Court, had been expected to possibly put the Weekly out of business. Testimony in the case made it clear that both newsweeklies have been hemorrhaging losses, and a spokesman for the Weekly's parent company told this newspaper in March that the Weekly would be closed if it lost the case.

However, in the ruling by the California First District Court of Appeals, the judges indicated that the Guardian and the SF Weekly had settled the case already, raising doubts as to whether the Weekly will be shut down anytime soon. Bay Guardian editor and publisher Bruce Brugmann then muddied the waters when he told the San Francisco Chronicle that settlement negotiations were still ongoing.

Regardless, the ruling was another blow to the Weekly and its parent company, Village Voice Media, which have lost numerous courtroom battles with the Guardian. At its core, the case involves whether the SF Weekly's decision to sell ads at below cost was designed to put the Guardian out of business.

Lawyers for the Weekly argued on appeal that California's Unfair Business Practices law should be interpreted like federal anti-trust laws (see "The Next Newspaper Death," 3/3/2010). That is, the Weekly wasn't guilty of trying to bankrupt the Guardian unless it expected to become a monopoly that could charge higher prices and "recoup" its earlier losses. But the appellate court rejected that argument and agreed with the Guardian that California law is distinct from federal law and requires no proof of such "recoupment."

The appeals court ruling also cleared the East Bay Express of any liability in the case. Between February 2001 and May 2007, the Express was owned by the company that later became Village Voice Media. During this time, the Express occasionally sold advertising at below-cost in group ad buys with the Weekly. But the court ruled that the Express did not act as an agent of the Weekly and that the Weekly's predatory behavior began well before the Express was part of the New Times chain.

In 2007, the Express became independent once again when a group of journalists and investors purchased the paper back from Village Voice Media.

No Gay Nuptials This Week

A federal appeals court decided this week not to allow same-sex couples to begin marrying immediately in California. Last week, US District Court Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that gay and lesbian couples could get hitched after 5 p.m. Wednesday, but the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals put a hold on his decision to invalidate Proposition 8 while the appellate process continues. The appeals court gave no reason for its decision to stay Walker's ruling until December, but chose to put the appeal on a fast track. It is expected that the case will ultimately be decided by the US Supreme Court.

Marcie Hodge in Mayor's Race

A whopping thirteen candidates are running for mayor in Oakland. The latest entry in the race is Marcie Hodge, a Peralta Community College District trustee and former candidate for Oakland City Council. Hodge said she entered the race because she's not impressed with the twelve other candidates, and wants to focus on job creation, public safety, and education. However, Hodge may have trouble projecting herself as a responsible mayor.

Last year, a Bay Area News Group investigation found that the East Oakland resident had charged more than $4,000 on personal expenses using her Peralta credit card, though she later reimbursed the district. The expenses included a $600 dress she purchased in Las Vegas. Last month, a grand jury criticized Hodge and her fellow board members for lax oversight, a lack of transparency, and questionable use of public funds.

Three-Dot Roundup

Rank and file members of the Oakland police union voted to start paying into their own pensions — as long as city voters approve a $50 million parcel tax this November. If the parcel tax loses, then cops will continue to not contribute to their pensions and more than 120 officers will be laid off this January. ... UC Berkeley will not send students the results of their voluntary DNA tests in a move designed to quell criticism of the new genetics program, the Chronicle reported. ... The legislature and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger agreed to remove Prop 18 from the November ballot. The controversial $11 million water bond had been heavily criticized by environmentalists in part because it would allow private corporations to own and operate taxpayer-built dams and reservoirs. ... An appellate court ruled that state workers will not be required to go on unpaid furlough this year while a lawsuit over the governor's furlough plan moves through the courts. ... And the two Texas oil companies that are bankrolling Prop 23 are also two of the biggest polluters in California. Valero and Tesoro, which have pumped at least $4.5 million into the statewide ballot measure that would roll back California's landmark climate-change law, operate two East Bay refineries that rank among the state's worst polluters, the Associated Press reported, citing a report from the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland.

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