The "Hearst eagle," a masthead symbol that still adorns the San Francisco Examiner, was created by William Randolph Hearst during the paper's prime as a flagship Hearst Media property. But these days, the eagle of the Examiner, which is now owned along with SF Weekly by the San Francisco Print Media Company, has been pecking at the Hearst Corporation and its local paper of record, the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Examiner sued the Chronicle in 2013 for allegedly offering discounted advertising rates to advertisers who would agree not to work with the Examiner. But after a drawn-out legal process in which the plaintiff, the Examiner, has presented little of its case for the defendant to view, an exasperated Superior Court Judge has ordered sanctions against the Examiner that will wound its case. Furthermore, the San Francisco Print Media Company must eventually pay Hearst's mounting legal fees.
According to the original complaint from the SF Print Media Company, "Hearst has demanded and obtained agreements from key advertising customers, which preclude those customers from purchasing any advertising space from the Examiner for a period of a year or more." The same play, after all, had worked for the SF Bay Guardian in a similar contest with the Weekly a few years earlier. The Guardian, which would go on to join the Weekly as an SF Print Media Company before eventually folding in 2014, won a high-profile predatory pricing case against the Weekly in 2008. That decision was upheld when the state Supreme Court refused to review a lower court ruling, and the Weekly was ordered to pay $21 million to its rival.
This time, as then, the case has maybe lingered for a while, but in this case the plaintiff isn't faring as well. The San Francisco Print Media Company's lawyers don't appear to have been forthcoming in the discovery process despite repeated orders from the judge. "Plaintiff's responses in the past, and those at issue now, are evasive and confusing," writes Judge Curtis Karnow. "They do not generally respond in a straightforward way to interrogatories."
Further, "Given the remarkable time and effort expended in these discovery disputes," Karnow writes that "I am not inclined to again order plaintiff to provide further responses; this would be futile... All I can do now, for responses which remain deficient, or in effect, empty, is to ensure that in fairness [Hearst] is not surprised in the future with further materials which the plaintiff ought to have provided by now."
By that, Judge Karnow means to indicate that he's imposing evidence sanctions. Any information the San Francisco Print Media Company does have but hasn't turned over during the lengthy discovery process can't be used at trial.
As far as attorneys' fees, which have no doubt swollen over the unnecessarily lengthy duration of discovery, Hearst "is clearly entitled to these fee shifting sanctions: plaintiff's positions, and many months of evasions and confusing responses, have without any justification imposed delay, and cost..." Judge Karnow will issue an order on those by April 19. The case returns to court on April 7.