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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bay Guardian Foiled In Latest Money Grab

Posted By on Tue, Apr 13, 2010 at 2:55 PM

Not so long ago, the Bay Guardian was drumming up sensationalistic headlines by claiming it might force SF Weekly parent company Village Voice Media Holdings into bankruptcy in order to collect on a $21 million judgment in its below-cost pricing lawsuit against the Weekly.

The Guardian even got a gullible reporter at Bloomberg News to bite on the claim that the legendary Village Voice in New York City might fall prey to the legal machinations of Bruce Brugmann.

The Voice is doing just fine these days; in fact, yesterday, one of its writers was named a Pulitzer finalist.

But Brugmann's dream of destroying the venerable Voice as part of his vendetta against the Weekly isn't faring so well.

On the day after beloved Voice theater critic Michael Feingold was honored by the Pulitzer jury, the Guardian's effort to add VVMH and Village Voice Media to the San Francisco judgment was shot down by the same judge who presided over the initial below-cost pricing trial.

At a brief hearing this morning, California Superior Court Judge Marla J. Miller ruled that she has no authority to amend the judgment now that the case is pending before the California Court of Appeal.

That decision was a big setback for the Guardian, which had hoped to go after VVMH and VVM assets despite the fact that the companies weren't named in the lawsuit and don't even do business in the State of California.

The Weekly has asked the state appeals court to throw out the underlying judgment, arguing that its anti-competitive implications are entirely inconsistent with prevailing precedents in anti-trust law. At the 2008 trial, which was characterized by emotional, anti-chain arguments on the part of the Guardian, the Weekly was found guilty of diverting business from the Guardian by not charging local advertisers enough for their ads.

And even while the Guardian has continued to fund aggressive post-trial collections efforts against the smaller Weekly, it allegedly has neglected to pay some of its own bills.

Court filings show that in October 2009, the Guardian was sued by the SF Newspaper Company for allegedly stiffing it on $283,000 in printing debt.

According to the lawsuit, the Guardian ordered printing services from SFNC from November 24, 2008 through August 31, 2009 in an amount totaling $295,692. But the SFNC claimed that only one payment of $12,000 was received in September 2009 and that, despite its demands for payment, the Guardian refused to agree to any plan to remit the remaining balance.

That lawsuit recently was settled. A "Notice of Grant of Security Interest in Judgment" filed by the Guardian on March 12 implies that the Guardian signed over a piece of its prospective judgment against the Weekly to the SFNC, which publishes the San Francisco Examiner and is owned by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz.

Precise terms of the settlement aren't clear.

But is it possible that, while the Guardian was accusing VVM of "positioning itself to become the greatest deadbeat in the history of the alternative press," it was behaving much like a deadbeat itself?

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Andy Van De Voorde


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