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The Press Democrat v. Sonoma County Herald Recorder

June 29, 2012

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
SONOMA COUNTY HERALD RECORDER,
DEFENDANT AND RESPONDENT.



(Sonoma County Super. Ct. No. SCV248128) Superior Court of the County of Sonoma, No. SCV248128, Mark Tansil, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jones, P.J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

"[C]ertain legal notices -- such as probate and foreclosure notices -- 'must . . . be published in a newspaper of general circulation.'" (In re Establishment of Eureka Reporter (2008) 165 Cal.App.4th 891, 895, citations omitted.) Government Code section 6000*fn1 defines a "'newspaper of general circulation'" as "a newspaper published for the dissemination of local or telegraphic news and intelligence of a general character, which has a bona fide subscription list of paying subscribers, and has been established, printed and published at regular intervals in the State, county, or city where publication, notice by publication, or official advertising is to be given or made for at least one year preceding the date of the publication, notice or advertisement."

Section 6006*fn2 creates a narrow exemption to section 6000's requirement that a newspaper must be printed in the place of publication. Pursuant to section 6006, a newspaper may qualify as a "newspaper of general circulation" without being printed in the "place of publication" if the newspaper "met all the requirements to qualify as an established newspaper of general circulation before 1923 and has continued to meet all the standards in force at that time[.]" (In re Norwalk Call (1964) 62 Cal.2d 185, 189 & fn. 2; In re The Anaheim Daily Gazette (1963) 214 Cal.App.2d 438, 440-441.)

The Sonoma County Herald Recorder (Herald Recorder) was adjudicated a "newspaper of general circulation" in 1953 and currently publishes various legal notices, such as notices of trustee sales. In 2010, the Press Democrat -- a Sonoma County daily newspaper and a competing "newspaper of general circulation" -- moved to vacate the Herald Recorder adjudication. The trial court denied the motion, concluding the Herald Recorder "met the requirements for a newspaper of general circulation before 1923" and was "exempt from the mandate of local printing" pursuant to section 6006. The court also concluded the Press Democrat did not show the Herald Recorder "lack[ed] a bona fide subscription list of paying subscribers, a list sufficient in quantity and . . . diversity."

The Press Democrat appeals. It contends the court erred by denying the motion to vacate because the Herald Recorder did not qualify for the section 6006 exemption and, in the alternative, because the Herald Recorder did not establish it had a "bona fide subscription list of paying subscribers" under section 6000.

We reverse. We conclude the court erred by denying the motion to vacate because the Herald Recorder did not demonstrate it qualified for the section 6006 exemption.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In April 1953, the Herald Recorder, then operating as the Sonoma County Herald, petitioned for adjudication as a newspaper of general circulation under section 6000. The petition alleged the Sonoma County Herald: (1) was a "newspaper of general circulation published for the dissemination of local and telegraphic news and intelligence of a general character at Santa Rosa, in the County of Sonoma[;]" (2) "ha[d] a bona fide subscription list of paying subscribers;" and (3) had been printed, established, and published at regular intervals in Santa Rosa "since 1899." In May 1953, the court granted the unopposed petition and entered a judgment establishing the Sonoma County Herald a newspaper of general circulation. The court determined, among other things, the Sonoma County Herald had a "bona fide subscription list of paying subscribers[.]"

The Sonoma County Herald changed its name to the Herald Recorder and, in 1963, the court modified the judgment to reflect the name change. In 1988, the Los Angeles-based Daily Journal Corporation acquired the Herald Recorder and later moved the printing of the newspaper to the Daily Journal Corporation's Los Angeles printing facilities.

The Herald Recorder publishes "a large percentage of the Notices of Trustee's Sales in the City of Santa Rosa and the County of Sonoma." It also publishes "some notices for the County of Sonoma, such as Ordinances and Notice[s] of Hearings."

The Press Democrat's Motion to Vacate the Herald Recorder Adjudication

The Press Democrat is a daily newspaper circulated in Santa Rosa and throughout the Sonoma County. It was adjudicated a newspaper of general circulation in 1951. Approximately 42,842 subscribe to its weekday editions in Sonoma County; approximately 20,499 subscribe to the weekday editions in Santa Rosa. The New York Times Company owns the Press Democrat.

In August 2010, the Press Democrat moved to vacate the judgment establishing the Herald Recorder as a newspaper of general circulation (§ 6024). The Press Democrat argued the Herald Recorder "'ceased to be' a newspaper of general circulation" because it was not printed in the city or county of publication and did not have a bona fide list of paying subscribers pursuant to section 6000. It also contended the Herald Recorder could not qualify as a newspaper of general circulation pursuant to section 6008, which provides alternate criteria for qualifying as a newspaper of general circulation. Finally, the Press Democrat claimed the Herald Recorder did not qualify for the exemption set forth in section 6006.

The Press Democrat's verified statement of facts offered in support of the petition averred: (1) the Daily Journal owns the Herald Recorder and publishes it in Los Angeles; (2) the Herald Recorder had 110 subscribers who received the newspaper five days a week, a decrease from 400 subscribers in 1989; (3) the 2010 population of Sonoma County is 493,285 and the ...


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