The Bay Guardian: Successfully giving the finger to SF Weekly's legal shield?
Back in January, we took a look at the more than $20 million judgment that's been levied against the San Francisco Weekly for "predatory pricing" of its ad space—and what that judgment could mean for the paper's parent company, which also owns the Seattle Weekly.
For those needing a brief recap, here's how this whole mess came to pass; why the independently owned Bay Guardian, which has already seized vehicles and rent checks from the San Francisco Weekly, is now threatening to seize assets of the Seattle Weekly and potentially more than a dozen other alt-weekly papers around the country; and why a representative of Village Voice Media, which owns the Seattle Weekly and all the other alt-weeklies in question, says the Bay Guardian "won't get a dime."
Yesterday, in an effort to sort out whether that complicated corporate structure can really help the Village Voice Media empire limit its exposure to the Bay Guardian's collections efforts, lawyers for the Bay Guardian filed a motion in San Francisco Superior Court to formally add Village Voice Media—specifically Village Voice Media Holdings, LLC and Village Voice Media, LLC—to the list of "judgment debtors" in this case. Why weren't they on the list already?
Because the original lawsuit that brought about the more than $20 million judgment was filed in October of 2004, back when the San Francisco Weekly was owned by an alt-weekly chain called New Times.
Shortly thereafter, New Times merged with Village Voice Media, creating, according to a press release issued at the time, "a truly national media company" with operations in many cities (including New York, where the merged company now controls the Village Voice; San Francisco, where it now controls the SF Weekly; and Seattle, where it now controls the Seattle Weekly). That "truly national media company" is currently majority-owned by the same people who previously owned only New Times.
But, because of its timing, the Bay Guardian's original lawsuit only named New Times, and not Village Voice Media, as the parent-company defendant.
Village Voice Media has been using that fact to argue that the Bay Guardian's collections efforts can only go as far up the corporate structure as New Times, which VVM says is now simply a holding company somewhere in the middle of its corporate structure, with no money to collect from it in any case.
The Bay Guardian wants to do away with that line of defense, and is arguing that because the same owners who were involved in its original lawsuit now run Village Voice Media, and because Village Voice Media has essentially become the "successor and alter ego" of New Times, Village Voice Media should be a fair target of its collections efforts.
A hearing is scheduled for March and Andy Van De Voorde, executive associate editor for Village Voice Media, is declining to comment. But if the Bay Guardian is successful in this part of its collections effort, it will be a lot harder for Van De Voorde to argue that the Seattle Weekly won't be affected if that $20 million+ judgment (which VVM is currently appealing) is fully collected.