SALT LAKE CITY — Calling it a "most unusual" antitrust case, Kearns-Tribune and Deseret News Publishing Co. have asked a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit over the two newspapers' revised joint operating agreement.
Lawyers for Kearns-Tribune say the suit is an assault on the right of a business owner to decide what makes the most sense for its business. They also say it's an assault on the right of the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News to make changes to the agreement allowed by the Newspaper Preservation Act.
"Plaintiff seems to forget that our Founding Fathers added the First Amendment to the Constitution to protect freedom of the press," attorney Carolyn LeDuc wrote in a motion filed this week in U.S. District Court.
"This court should reject plaintiff’s request that it substitute its judgment for that of the Tribune’s owners as to what is best for the Tribune."
The complaint filed by Utah Newspaper Project, or Citizens for Two Voices, contends that the agreement that was renegotiated by Kearns-Tribune, its owner, Digital First Media, and New York-based Alden Global Capital LLC and the Deseret News in October 2013 leaves the Tribune "in imminent danger of ceasing publication."
The group filing suit, which includes former Tribune staff members, wants a judge to find that the revised joint operating agreement violates interstate trade and various antitrust laws, decree that it is illegal, stop its implementation and award relief to "restore effective competition."
"This is a most unusual antitrust case," LeDuc wrote, noting the News and the Tribune have both benefited from the agreement and survived in a market that could otherwise support only one newspaper.
According to the motion, the Utah Newspaper Project doesn't cite any facts showing a realistic danger that the Tribune will cease publishing in the foreseeable future or that the agreement would be terminated before its 2020 expiration date.
It has not met its burden to show that it has "plausible grounds" to support its claim that the amended agreement is no longer entitled to its exemption from antitrust laws, the motion says.