After years in the making, the Trial of the Century is finally about to get under way in San Francisco Superior Court. Okay, so it's only the Trial of the Century for the parties involved, but one of those parties happens to be this newspaper, so using our best editorial judgment, we deem the moniker fitting. The other party is the Bay Guardian, which filed a lawsuit against SF Weekly and our corporate parent, New Times (now Village Voice Media), back in October 2004, accusing us of "predatory pricing." The suit contends that the Weekly, with the financial backing of the 16-paper New Times chain, sold ads below cost over several years in an effort to drive the Guardian out of business. The Weekly and its attorneys deny that the company engaged in any illegal pricing scheme. So there.
It may seem like inside baseball, but there's plenty at stake here, especially for the Guardian, which has spent more than $300,000 in legal fees so far. The Guardian has experienced financial difficulties in recent times, as evidenced by its six-figure debt to media mogul Dean Singleton and his Denver-based company, MediaNews, for unpaid printing costs. That's the same Dean Singleton regularly excoriated by the Guardian and its publisher, Bruce Brugmann, as a monopolist since MediaNews acquired several Bay Area newspapers including the San Jose Mercury News and Contra Costa Times. It appears Brugmann has never bothered to disclose his debt to Singleton to Guardian readers, and that's a potential conflict of interest influencing the paper's coverage.
With jury selection scheduled to begin this week, lawyers on both sides have been arguing over what evidence jurors shouldn't get to hear. Last week the Guardian moved to exclude several "improper and prejudicial" topics (read: embarrassing), which we mention here for your enlightenment: The "pro-labor" weekly's disagreements with union organizers who staged a walkout in 1996; the "progressive" paper's allegedly improper use of unpaid interns to perform editorial work; an accusation by the Weekly's previous owner that the Guardian was selling its ads at prices that were too low (the same thing the Guardian is accusing us of doing now); and the assertion that Brugmann has told people he filed his predatory-pricing lawsuit to extract a quick settlement or force New Times to sell the Weekly to him.
Well, we could go on and on, but we're running out of space. For regular updates on the case, check out our Web site at blogs.sfweekly.com.