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Friday, January 25, 2008

Jury Chosen in Anti-Weekly Suit

Posted By on Fri, Jan 25, 2008 at 4:10 PM

By Andy Van De Voorde

After two days of voir dire proceedings, a panel of twelve jurors was sworn in Friday afternoon in the "predatory pricing" lawsuit filed against the Weekly by the Bay Guardian.

Alternate jurors have yet to be selected, which means that opening statements in the case will likely be pushed back to Monday afternoon, if not later.

Superior Court Judge Marla J. Miller approved the final panel after morning proceedings in which a number of prospective jurors were excused, either for cause or because they were the target of peremptory challenges by either side.

The man who yesterday told the judge that "if one man wants to sell his paper for less money, he should be allowed to do so" called in sick and was struck from the jury pool as a result. Judge Miller also excused two officers for start-up software companies who told her yesterday that they felt a case based on a Depression-era law limiting "below-cost sales" flew in the face of modern economic reality. A fourth person was excused by the judge for cause, presumably because at yesterday's proceedings she made clear her bias against "large companies."

The Weekly was purchased in 1995 by New Times Media, which is now called Village Voice Media and owns sixteen papers across the country.

Pool members excused at the request of attorneys included a longtime Pacific Gas & Electric employee, who was asked to leave by the Guardian after he told the packed courtroom that he preferred to read a dog-owners' magazine rather than the Guardian, both of which were available at his local Laundromat. "I suppose after six months of not reading anything, I might read it," the jovial journeyman said of the Guardian. The same man drew laughs earlier when Guardian attorney Ralph C. Alldredge told him his clients had written many stories of critical of PG&E and asked him if he was critical of PG&E himself.

"I've got 39 years in with them," the man replied. "What do you think?"

The Guardian used four other challenges on Friday to remove a mechanical engineer with a doctoral degree from Stanford; a worker for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's school-lunch program, who told the court he was " a bit more conservative than the Bay Guardian"; a man who works in the treasury department at Chevron and said he never read either paper; and a software engineer, who may have been targeted because he told Miller that the case "seemed like an uphill battle for the Guardian, unless they have some concrete evidence."

Weekly attorneys used three challenges. The first was used to remove a longtime employee for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services who told the court she ran programs for runaway and homeless youth. The Weekly also excused an unemployed man who said he used to work as an assistant manager at Walgreens, but "hoped he would never have to work for such a large company again." The same man said he was just starting a graduate program and wasn't sure he would be able to get enough sleep to pay attention in court. Finally, the Weekly excused a man who said he worked for a large "corporate branding" company but made a point of not buying coffee at Starbucks. He admitted that if "something was unclear" at the trial, his bias would lead him to vote against a larger company.

The two legal teams finally agreed on a panel in the early afternoon. The group sworn in by Miller comprises eight men and four women. It includes a pair of software engineers; a surgical nurse who rose to the rank of commander in the U.S. Navy; a 21-year veteran of the U.S. Post Office; a transit operator; a bank teller; a woman who runs her own trucking company; a longtime art and sculpture professor; a sports architect who helps design and build stadiums and arenas; a woman who does freelance Web development while also making and selling her own meditation CDs; a former San Francisco Chronicle distribution manager who now works for the Golden Gate Transit District and has started his own security company as a sideline; and a laboratory technician at a local hospital.

Judge Miller told attorneys for both sides that she intends to seat an additional five alternate jurors. That process got under way Friday afternoon, but was cut short when Miller excused the jurors in order to keep to her goal of conducting court from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. during the trial.

Before the break, prospective alternates questioned by Miller included a retired federal government employee who noted he read both papers, an inspector for the San Francisco Fire Department, and a young woman who asked about the concept of "jury nullification" and then went on to disclose that she "runs an anti-big-media Web site in her spare time." She noted that her other extracurricular activities have included writing an academic paper about how Starbucks drives local competitors out of business so that it can then raise its coffee prices.

The alternate-juror selection process begins anew Monday at 8:30 a.m. at the courthouse on McAllister.

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