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Judge asked to unseal merger records

Bruce Brugmann’s Bay Guardian and the nonprofit Media Alliance today moved to intervene in the federal court case over newspaper consolidation in the Bay Area and to ask Judge Susan Illston (right) to make public key documents in the lawsuit.

The motion seeks to unseal records in the case of Clint Reilly v. Hearst Corp., a suit challenging the legality of MediaNews Group’s purchase of the Contra Costa Times, the San Jose Mercury News and some 30 other local papers. The suit, filed by San Francisco developer and political activist Clint Reilly, has also resulted in an order prohibiting MediaNews and Hearst from collaborating on national advertising sales or distribution until the case goes to trial in April.

On Sept. 14, Judge Illston granted a motion by MediaNews and Hearst Corp. to seal all records in the case unless they are already public record. An attorney for Reilly, Dan Shulman, was quoted in September as saying Reilly had little choice but to agree to the confidentiality in order for a trial in the case to proceed swiftly and begin Feb. 26. Still, the irony of the situation was inescapable — for years both companies had gone to court in various cases seeking to unseal records as part of their efforts to gather the news.

Brugmann (left) points out that the few documents that have been discussed in open court so far show the companies are discussing joint printing, ad sales and other business deals.

“The courts are supposed to operate in public, and there’s a clear public interest in this information,” said Brugmann. “Our intent here is to ensure that the nation’s biggest newspaper chains, as they move to destroy daily competition and impose a regional monopoly on the Bay Area, cannot do so in the dark of night with sealed records that set a terrible precedent for the free press, the First Amendment, and open government.”

[Bay Guardian: Opening the secret files — Guardian, MediaAlliance file legal motion to open key Hearst-Singleton newspaper merger records] [PDF of Motion to Intervene] [Press Club, Sept. 14: Documents sealed in Reilly’s antitrust suit] [Press Club, Sept. 15: Details on Hearst-MediaNews secrecy order] [E&P: Guardian will ask court to unseal Hearst-MediaNews documents] [AP: Judge urged to unseal files in newspaper antitrust case]

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