Attorneys for The San Francisco Examiner filed complaints against its main competitor the San Francisco Chronicle on June 25 to the California Superior Court.
They demand for a Jury trail saying that The Chronicle is in violation of the Unfair Practices Act and Unfair Competition Law. As reported by The Examiner last month, The San Francisco Newspaper Company, which owns the Examiner, SF Weekly, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian, alleges that the Chronicle offered ad space to advertisers for a fraction of its cost. Ads were offered on the condition that the advertisers not buy ads in the Examiner.
Speaking to attorney Ralph Alldredge who represents The Examiner along with the firm of Kilpatrick Townsend and Stockton, he said to this reporter by phone briefly, "we are still waiting to hear from The Hearts Corporation." The Hearst Corporation is among the largest news media companies in the nation. In addition to owning and operating The Chronicle, Hearst Corporation has over a dozen newspapers as well as other holdings. For over 120 years the Hearst Corporation has been a dominant force in the publishing world.
There is no mention of the litigation filed at the Heart Corporation web site. "Interesting, said Alldredge, "they find a lot that is more worthy of their comment than our lawsuit." Alldredge pointed out that the complaint is filed on firm legal ground, "the California Unfair Practices Act, which is found at Business and Professions code sections 17000-17200," he noted. And, "standard jury instructions for cases involving the Unfair Practices Act are found at (California Approved Civil Instructions,) CACI 3300 et seq. and provide instructions about the elements of a UPA violation that are stated in terms designed for communicating those elements to ordinary jurors.
Alldredge also pointed out that application of the UPA to a recent case involving Bay Area newspapers is illustrated by the Court of Appeal opinion in Bay Guardian versus SF Weekly, of "which I was the lead lawyer in that case, both at trial and on appeal," he said.
He also made reference to a long article about the case published in Seattle's alternate newspaper "The Stranger." In Alldredge's opinion, that article was the "most accurate and complete newspaper treatment of an anti-trust case I have seen in more than 40 years of trial practice," he said.
Some of the comments following SF Examiner article about the filing of the lawsuit express indifference. Sort of as if to say, "so, what's the big deal?" This reporter asked "isn't this similar to an exclusive contract?"
"There are antitrust laws that prohibit certain types of exclusive dealing arrangements, noted Alldredge. But we have not relied upon those laws and are not claiming that the exclusive deals by Hearst are per se illegal." "Rather, he said, we have cited the exclusive dealing done by Hearst Corporation as simply evidence that tends to prove they were attempting to harm The Examiner through the below cost pricing." Alldredge also noted that this is damaging because of "loss leaders or secret discriminatory discounts used to obtain exclusive dealing contracts with customers who would otherwise have been likely to purchase advertising space from The Examiner."
This reporter was interested in what the Attorney General's office had to say about the case. Yet as Alldredge indicated, "although the California State AG and local DAs have the power to pursue cases under the UPA, they have only used that power in a handful of cases since the UPA was enacted in 1937."
Interestingly, said Alldredge, "enforcement has been limited instead to private cases like ours, and I am not aware of a single private case where government lawyers have intervened or become involved."
"So, the fact is that while government attorneys may have opinions about the UPA, Alldredge continued, none of them have any experience in pursuing claims under its terms," he said.
Ralph is a crusader for fair and honest competition in the newspaper business, said prominent anti-trust attorney Max Blecher of Blecher, Collins, Pepperman and Joye. He has known Alldredge for many years and admitted, this case is a challenge. As Blecher said, "below cost pricing is considered a difficult claim to prove and particularly so in the newspaper business which has a unique style of accounting." Yet, Blecher also pointed out, "that's the purpose of the California Unfair Practices Act." "Ralph is a truly super lawyer and I expect him to be vindicated again," he said.