Judge Marla Miller on July 18 rejected attempts by the SF Weekly and its chain owner to overturn the Guardian‘s victory and $16 million jury award in a predatory pricing case.
The ruling marked the end of the first full round of this legal fight and sets the stage for a shift to the California Court of Appeal.
SF Weekly and Village Voice Media had asked Miller to overturn the jury verdict or order a new trial, and the company lawyers spent hours July 8 arguing that the evidence presented in a five-week trial didn’t justify the jury’s decision. They also claimed that Miller had issued improper jury instructions.
Attorneys James Wagstaffe and H. Sinclair Kerr also tried to get the judge to sever the 16-paper chain from the damages part of the case. That would have left the Weekly as the only guilty party. And VVM had admitted that the Weekly has no assets and would be unable to pay the Guardian anywhere near $16 million.
Miller, with little comment, denied both requests.
The defendants have consistently said they plan to appeal.
The case centered around the Guardian‘s charge that the Weekly had for years sold ads below the cost of producing the newspaper for the purpose of injuring the locally owned, independent competitor.
Evidence presented at trial showed that the Weekly had consistently lost money, as much as $2 million a year, since New Times now known as VVM bought the paper in 1995.
The evidence also showed that VVM’s executive editor, Michael Lacey, had vowed to put the Guardian out of business, and that Weekly advertising and business staff were instructed to try to take business away from the Guardian, whatever the cost.
And while the VVM lawyers mounted a convoluted legal argument to claim that the parent company wasn’t legally liable for any damages, the trial showed that the senior executives at the Phoenix-based chain were not only aware of the predatory strategy but were active participants in it.
In fact, two senior officers, CFO Jed Brunst and group publisher Scott Tobias, admitted that the SF Weekly would have gone out of business years ago if the chain hadn’t subsidized its operations.
For more details and key documents, go to sfbg.com/lawsuit