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Daily Journal of Commerce Inc. v. Daily Journal Corp.

May 12, 1997

DAILY JOURNAL OF COMMERCE, INC., A WASHINGTON CORPORATION, RESPONDENT,
v.
DAILY JOURNAL CORPORATION, A SOUTH CAROLINA CORPORATION, D/B/A WASHINGTON JOURNAL, APPELLANT.



Appeal from Superior Court of King County. Docket No: 95-2-09787-1. Date filed: 08/21/95. Judge signing: Hon. Jack P. Scholfield.

Order Amending Opinion and Denying Reconsideration August 27, 1997,

Authored by Walter E. Webster. Concurring: H. Joseph Coleman, Faye C. Kennedy.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Webster

WEBSTER, J. -- In 1961, the legislature added a new qualification for newspapers that wanted to publish legal announcements: newspapers must contain "news of general interest as contrasted with news of interest primarily to an organization, group or class." *fn1 This qualification requires a publication to dedicate itself to topics in such a way as to ensnare a broad based readership. Because the legislature intended to disqualify special interest newspapers, the Washington Journal, which emphasizes news of particular interest to lawyers, does not qualify as a legal newspaper. Consequently, we affirm the trial court's order revoking approval of the Washington Journal as such.

FACTS

The Washington Journal obtained an ex parte superior court order in 1995 stating that it qualified as a "legal newspaper." *fn2 A few months later, the Daily Journal of Commerce filed a petition in superior court seeking to terminate Washington Journal's legal newspaper status. The crux of the Daily Journal's attack was that the Washington Journal failed to qualify because it did not "contain news of general interest as contrasted with news of interest primarily to an organization, group or class." *fn3 In a memorandum opinion, the superior court terminated Washington Journal's status as a legal newspaper. The court held that while some of the news published in the Washington Journal is of general interest, as well as particular interest to the legal community, "the contents are approximately 90 percent primarily directed to the legal community." *fn4 Washington Journal appeals the superior court's termination of its status as a legal newspaper.

Discussion

Qualifications of a Legal Newspaper

This case requires us to interpret the statute establishing qualifications of a legal newspaper. *fn5 Given the breadth of statutes requiring use of legal newspapers, these publications impact diverse segments of society. For example, notice in a legal newspaper is required for certain procedures in real property foreclosures or sales under execution of judgment, *fn6 probate of estates, *fn7 dependency and termination of parental rights, *fn8 separation contracts made without court decree, *fn9 adoption, *fn10 proposed constitutional amendments and special elections, *fn11 public works contracts, *fn12 and sale or lease of public property or property held in trust. *fn13 The variety of people and businesses affected by these statutes indicates that the legislature intended legal newspapers to broadcast toward diverse segments of society.

Keeping the intended audience in mind, we turn to interpreting the legal newspaper qualification statute. To put the current statute in perspective, we initially examine its predecessors. The legislature first regulated the publication of legal notices in 1921. *fn14 That legislation essentially defined "legal newspaper" as a daily or weekly English language newspaper in the city or town for the notice published. *fn15 Despite the absence of any statutory language, *fn16 the courts before and after the statute consistently analyzed whether the disputed publication was a "newspaper of general circulation." *fn17

In 1941, the legislature established the procedure by which superior courts approve publications as "legal newspapers." *fn18 That statute established the following qualifications for approval:

The qualifications of a legal newspaper are that such newspaper shall have been published regularly, at least once a week, in the English language, as a newspaper of general circulation, in the city or town where the same is published at the time of application for approval, for at least six months prior to the date of such application, and shall be printed either in whole or in part in an office maintained at the place of publication. *fn19

The current statute includes a 1961 amendment to those qualifications; the legislature added the requirement that papers "shall contain news of general interest as contrasted with news of interest primarily to an organization, group or class:"

The qualifications of a legal newspaper are that such newspaper shall have been published regularly, at least once a week, in the English language, as a newspaper of general circulation, in the city or town where the same is published at the time of application for approval, for at least six months prior to the date of such application; shall be compiled either in whole or in part in an office maintained at the place of publication; shall contain news of general interest as ...


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