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News-Leader challenges Daily Events' eligibility

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

A hearing to determine what newspapers in Springfield are eligible to run legal notices has been continued to Feb. 18, following a protest by The News-Leader.

Jeff Schrag, publisher of The Daily Events, said that at a hearing Jan. 20, officials from the Springfield News-Leader objected to The Daily Events' eligibility to run the legal notices, and that the hearing will be continued Feb. 18. The hearing was also interrupted because a court recorder was not present, Schrag said.

Legal notice publications are defined and their purpose set forth in the Revised Missouri Statutes, Chapter 493. The statute says that "all public advertisements and orders of publication required by law to be made and all legal publications affecting the title to real estate, shall be published in some daily, triweekly, semiweekly or weekly newspaper of general circulation."

Another portion of the statute, Section 493.070, says that in a city with a population of 100,000 or more, all such public notices shall be published in "some daily newspaper of such city."

The hearings, such as the one that has been continued to Feb. 18, are to "establish what newspapers can carry these legal notices," said Jean Maneke, an attorney representing the Missouri Press Association. Though Maneke could not comment specifically on the Springfield case, she outlined the purpose of the Missouri statute:

"Basically, this law came into effect because long, long ago, when courts wanted to post notices, they had to put them up on the courthouse door or out in public view somehow, and that's when the idea came about that newspapers could carry these notices and that the public would have the ability to get that information from their newspaper," Maneke said.

Schrag said there is no provision in the statute to note the Springfield News-Leader's objection, and that there is no precedent for the situation in Missouri.

"It's kind of like impeaching the president. It hasn't been done before, so we're not sure how it will proceed," Schrag said.

The Daily Events has been a daily legal publication since "Lincoln's birthday (Feb. 12) in 1928," Schrag said. He has owned the publication since 1995. The paper's circulation is about 375, Schrag said.

The decision as to which publications qualify as legal notice publications is made by the entire group of 31st Circuit court judges, sitting as a council.

The judges may qualify as many publications as they deem meet the statute's requirements.

The Daily Events will have the opportunity to present its case and defend itself as a viable legal notice publication at the Feb. 18 hearing, Schrag said. He added that the News-Leader has not yet made clear its reason for the objection.

Bernie Griffin, News-Leader publisher, said he could not comment extensively on the matter, since it is pending, but he did say, "In most communities, the daily newspaper informs the public, and it is typically in those newspapers that the legal notices are published, since they are published to inform the public and that is where most people can see them."

Should the panel of judges determine The Daily Events is not a viable legal notice publication, The Daily Events will be out of business, Schrag said.

"It will put me out of business. ... We could fill our paper with information we get from press releases we get in every day, but we have chosen to invest time and energy into our public record format, and we plan to continue that way.

"This is classic David vs. Goliath, and it could end up with the News-Leader having a monopoly," Schrag said.

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