Papers in legal battle
By Lawrence Viele| Morris News Service
Wednesday, October 15, 1997

ATLANTA -- Suburban Atlanta's Gwinnett Daily Post figured it could boost circulation by joining with a cable company to give free subscriptions to customers.

But besides bringing new business, it incurred the wrath of the mammoth Atlanta Journal and Constitution, which has about 15 times the circulation.

Lawyers for the largest newspaper in the Southeast appealed Tuesday to the Georgia Supreme Court that the Atlanta papers, not the Daily Post, should be the paper of record for legal advertising in Gwinnett -- one of Georgia's fastest-growing counties.

One Supreme Court Justice Tuesday went beyond the technicalities of the law in questioning the attorneys for both sides.

"How much money are we talking about here?" Justice Leah Sears asked Sean Smith, who represented the Atlanta newspapers.

The contract for legal ads in Gwinnett County, a booming northeast Atlanta suburb, has an estimated value of $800,000 a year. "It's a large chunk of advertising." Mr. Smith replied.

Tuesday's case had reached the state's highest court after a Gwinnett Superior Court judge had earlier dismissed the Atlanta newspaper complaint. He ruled that state law does not obligate county officials to constantly review the qualifications of the Daily Post whether its circulation is 85 percent-paid, a benchmark required by state law for publishing legal ads.

In Georgia, a county's sheriff, probate judge and clerk of court are charged with choosing the legal organ.

The Atlanta papers argued Tuesday that at least 85 percent of the Daily Post circulation had been paid -- not giveaways -- in 1996 when county officials declared it Gwinnett's legal organ. However, the subsequent deal with the cable company meant many of the papers no longer went to paid subscribers, Mr. Smith said.

However, Richard Carothers, an attorney for the Daily Post, told the justices that the Journal-Constitution attorneys are misrepresenting the facts. "It's not a giveaway paper," he said.

Daily Post circulation leaped from 14,000 to 46,000 after the newspaper struck a deal with Northeast Gwinnett CableVision to provide subscriptions at no extra cost to cable customers. The cable company paid for the subscriptions for its customers, so the paper still qualifies to print legal ads, Mr. Carothers argued.

David Hudson, an Augusta attorney representing the Georgia Press Association, has filed legal briefs supporting the position of the Atlanta newspapers.

The Supreme Court has until March to rule on the matter.

This is the second battle between the Journal-Constitution and a smaller Gwinnett County competitor during the 1990s. In 1992 the Atlanta newspapers won a competitive five-year advertising war with the Gwinnett Daily News, finally purchasing the paper owned by The New York Times Co., then closing it.

From the Wednesday, October 15, 1997 edition of the Augusta Chronicle


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