Hearst asks for delay in Seattle JOA lawsuit

by Eric Pryne, Seattle Times

The owner of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer asked a judge Thursday to postpone a committee's lawsuit against both Seattle newspapers until late June, after a private arbitrator has decided the two companies' claims against each other.

The Hearst Corp. also asked King County Superior Court Judge Greg Canova to make a decision on the postponement request Monday.

With Hearst and The Seattle Times Co. deep in preparations for a climactic arbitration hearing that could decide the P-I's fate, "every day is significant," Hearst's lawyers wrote.

A Times spokeswoman said her company supports Hearst. A lawyer for the Committee for a Two-Newspaper Town (CTNT), target of Hearst's moves, said both newspapers are trying to stall.

The Times and Hearst have been fighting in court since 2003 over the future of their joint-operating agreement (JOA), under which The Times handles most business functions for both papers.

Last spring, they agreed to let a private arbitrator decide the dispute.

The arbitration hearing is scheduled to start April 9; a ruling is expected by May 31. If The Times wins, the P-I could close.

CTNT, which is not involved in the arbitration but is an intervenor in the underlying 2003 lawsuit, filed a motion last week challenging part of the JOA that allows Hearst to close the P-I and still collect part of The Times' profits until 2083.

Canova is scheduled to decide that motion April 6, just one business day before the arbitration hearing starts.

In its request Thursday, Hearst said it would be "exceedingly difficult" for the newspapers to prepare to fight each other and the committee simultaneously in different forums.

CTNT hasn't pursued until recently the claims it filed 3 1/2 years ago, Hearst said, and won't suffer any harm if its motion is postponed.

Committee lawyer Kathy George disagreed.

Her client wants to eliminate the possibility that Hearst could close the P-I and collect part of The Times profits "once and for all, regardless of how the arbitration of the newspapers' contract dispute is resolved," she said in an e-mail.

In a related matter, Canova is scheduled to decide next Friday whether the newspapers must turn over to the committee 3.5 million pages of documents produced in preparation for the closed-door arbitration hearing.

The companies say that, too, would impose an enormous burden with the hearing looming.

article originally published at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/2003596471_joa02.html.

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