(AP) The Greeley Tribune has sued a county official in federal court, accusing her of withholding legal advertising in retaliation for an editorial calling for the abolishment of her office and others like it around the state.
The lawsuit says public trustee Mary Hergert violated the First Amendment and engaged in unfair trade practices. The newspaper is seeking damages, attorney’s fees, and a judge’s order that nothing similar happen again.
The lawsuit stems from a January story and a February editorial. The Tribune’s editorial board called the trustee’s office obsolete and said it should be abolished.
In April, legal notices from the trustee’s office stopped appearing in the Tribune. Hergert said she had received a better price and better technology from the Windsor Beacon, a weekly newspaper.
According to the lawsuit filed May 31 in U.S. District Court in Denver, the newspaper believes Hergert dropped the Tribune ads in retaliation for the newspaper’s editorial. Tribune Publisher Jim Elsberry said he offered Hergert a lower price and improved technology but she had declined.
“Thanks to First Amendment rights, a public official cannot punish a newspaper for its editorial content,” Elsberry said. “After you get through the smoke and mirrors, that’s exactly what Mary Hergert is doing here, and that’s wrong.”
Reached on June 1, Hergert declined to comment, citing the advice of her attorney.
Elsberry said the Tribune would lose between $400,000 and $500,000 a year in revenue without the legal ads.
The trustee’s office handles paperwork for public mortgage refinancings and foreclosures and is financed by fees. The Tribune editorial board wrote that eliminating the offices in the 11 counties that have them could save the state about $500,000.