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Newspapers return to court in latest battle over legals

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The Idaho Business Review and the Idaho Statesman were back in court last week in the latest round of the case with more staying power than the shelf-life of a Twinkie.

The two sides met in district court on July 18 on the dual matter of a request to stay a previous court decision limiting who can publish legal notices (on the part of the Business Review) and a motion for contempt (from the Statesman). Judge Deborah Bail dismissed the motion for contempt, while denying the request to stay her last judgement.

These motions are just the latest salvos in an ongoing battle over legal notices—the small but lucrative advertisement used to announce legal proceedings and filings.

Since the Statesman began telling advertisers it was illegal to place legals in the Business Review two years ago, publisher Rick Carpenter estimates his paper has lost between $150,000 to $200,000 per year. Conversely, Statesman officials have said revenue from legals is "miniscule."

Last October, the Statesman filed a lawsuit against the Business Review claiming the small, business-oriented weekly did not meet the standards for legals, and therefore could not be used to published the required notices under state law.

The Statesman argues that state law limits the publication of legal notices by both government agencies and private parties to papers of general interest, defined as the papers with the largest circulations in their respective geographic areas. (The Business Review's paid circulation is 3,312, while the Statesman's paid circulation is more than 64,000.)

But the Business Review said it makes a distinction between listings that are required to run in the paper with the largest paid circulation, and those which list a requirement for a paper of general interest, which Carpenter said is any paper that qualifies under rules of legal notification.

Judge Bail ruled in favor of the Statesman. But since then, the Business Review has continued to run some legal notices free of charge for customers. Carpenter said ads run in his paper have run concurrently in the Statesman.

While the motion failed, Carpenter said the Business Review plans to take the case to the state Supreme Court, and has already filed an appeal. He expects the paper will go before the court in August.

"We appealed the decision at the district court level because of the statewide implications, we hope the court will understand that," Carpenter said.

He said he is pleased with the court's decision to dismiss the motion for contempt. "The judge found the Statesman's motion for contempt was baseless," he said. "Their motion was an attempt to get us to stop publishing [legals] for some reason, when I thought the whole purpose was to get them in front of as many eyes as possible."

A request for comment from Statesman publisher Mai-Ai Parrish was not returned by press time.

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