A San Francisco jury this afternoon awarded the Bay Guardian $15.6 million after determining that the SF Weekly and its corporate owner illegally sold below-cost ads in an attempt to run the locally-owned paper out of business, the Guardian, AP and the Chron report.
At the end of the five-week trial, Guardian Publisher Bruce Brugmann told the jury that his paper would have to close if it lost the case.
Jurors were told that the SF Weekly had lost money for the past 12 years. The Guardian’s lawyer suggested that the Weekly’s owners were willing to accept such losses in the hopes they would force Brugmann out of business. The SF Weekly is owned by Village Voice Media of Phoenix, formerly known as New Times.
The jury awarded the Guardian $6.39 million in actual damanges, but part of the verdict is subject to treble damages, bringing the award to $15.6 million.
Rod Kerr, attorney for the Village Voice Media, said the 16-paper chain intends to appeal, according to the Guardian.
The SF Weekly said on its blog:
- “Today’s verdict in Bruce Brugmann’s suit was an expensive lesson in laws, lawyers, and lawsuits, and how one man’s obsession manipulated the system. Like Ralph Nader, Bruce Brugmann is out of touch with reality.”
On the other hand, the Guardian said on its blog that the $15.6 million award has larger implications:
- “[T]he verdict sends a clear signal to small businesses, independent newspapers and the alternative press that a locally owned publication has the right to a level playing field and that a chain can’t intentionally cut prices and sell below cost to injure a smaller competitor.”