Judge Delays Decision On Arbitration In Seattle JOA Dispute

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By: E&P Staff

The judge overseeing the litigation between the feuding dailies in Seattle’s joint operating agreement (JOA) has set April 27 to hear oral arguments on whether The Seattle Times Co. and Hearst Corp. can take their dispute out of the courthouse and into private binding arbitration.

King County (Wash.) Superior Court Judge Greg Canova’s decision Friday to hear oral arguments amounted to at least a temporary setback to the companies, which had hoped to get the arbitration process underway immediately.

The Times Co., publisher of The Seattle Times, contends the JOA has had six consecutive years of financial losses, double the number of losing years it needs to trigger a clause in the agreement forcing Hearst’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer to be sold, or the JOA dissolved. Seattle Times Publisher Frank Blethen, majority owner of the Times Co., contends the expense of publishing the Post-Intelligencer is bleeding the JOA and threatening the viability of his paper. Hearst argues that the Times is improperly triggering the “loss notice” clause, and that its paper would fold if the JOA is dissolved.

Earlier this month, the two sides agreed to submit their dispute to binding arbitration to be decided by a retired state judge. They are asking Canova to suspend all court activity on the case until the arbitrator makes his decision, which is scheduled for the end of May, 2007.

A third party in the litigation, a citizens group calling itself the Committee for a Two-Newspaper Town, a citizens group that is an intervener in the lawsuit, has asked Canova to keep the case in open court. The group had also asked for the chance to present oral arguments.

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