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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Who You Callin' Guilty?

Posted By on Wed, Mar 5, 2008 at 3:47 PM

The Snitch packs his things and leaves the courthouse.

By Andy Van De Voorde

It was a packed house Wednesday at Superior Court when the jury announced its verdict in the Bay Guardian’s predatory-pricing lawsuit against the Weekly.

The Snitch had been lurking around the courthouse for the past four days when word came down from an informant there would be a jury verdict at noon.

That was actually delayed slightly when the court reporter, whose inability to keep up with witnesses as they testified had become legendary, decided she needed a break after working on another trial during the morning.

As a result, there were 15 minutes during which the owners of both the Weekly and the Guardian waited together in the courtroom, sitting in the gallery.

The minutes passed painfully as the second hand on the courtroom clock plodded its way around the orb.

As time slowly dragged on, increasing numbers of Guardian employees and hangers-on filed in.

The Snitch had anticipated more of the snickering and chortling that he had heard so much of during the trial.

Instead, Bruce Brugmann, Tim Redmond, Guardian co-publisher Jean Dibble, and controller Sandy Lange, among assorted other hangers-on, watched quietly as the jury foreman handed them their early Christmas gift: damages in the amount of more than $15 million.

According to evidence presented at trial, that figure is far more than the Guardian has earned throughout its history.

The panel voted 11 to 1 that the Weekly, its former sister paper the East Bay Express, and their parent company, New Times (now Village Voice Media) intended to injure the Guardian and had done so.

When The Snitch heard the verdict, he was disappointed but not surprised.

As this blogger has written, the state law under which the Guardian sued is practically an invitation for inefficient competitors to sue their rivals in hopes of a big payday.

And jury instructions in the case — particularly one that told the jury it must presume injurious intent if it found even one Weekly below-cost ad that took business away from the Guardian — more or less guaranteed a pro-Brugmann decision.

Either way, the 20-minute proceedings provided an anticlimactic ending to a six-week marathon that produced numerous memorable moments, such as Brugmann hollering about chain conspiracies on the witness stand and Guardian expert witness Clifford Kupperberg entrancing the jury with tales of 75 percent profit margins.

The sole heroine to emerge from The Snitch’s point of view was a young Asian-American juror, who rejected the notion that either the Weekly, the Express or New Times had caused any illegal injury to the Guardian.

Beyond that, the only highlight came at the very end, after all the jurors had confirmed their votes.

At that point, the jury foreman turned to Judge Marla J. Miller.

“Your Honor, the jury has one more question,” he said.

The judge nodded for him to continue.

The foreman smiled.

“We were wondering, who is the gentleman in the back on the right?” he asked.

The foreman pointed at The Snitch.

Judge Miller suggested it was a question best left for the courthouse hallway, and the jury filed out.

So just who is The Snitch?

Let's just say someone who is amazed to see Soviet-style collectivization endorsed by the state courts.

Beyond that, this blogger is far too shy to say more. (SF Weekly readers, however, can expect to see more on the case in next week’s paper.)

Besides, he can hear his handler in the federal witness protection program calling him home.

And with that, your faithful courthouse correspondent bids you adieu.

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Will Harper

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