This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Lawyers in a dispute over Salt Lake City's two daily newspapers clashed Wednesday over ground rules for sharing information in a lawsuit targeting their business dealings.
Attorneys for the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune want restrictions on what the papers must disclose in the case and to whom as they fight a community group's legal challenge to recent changes in their commercial partnership.
A hearing previously scheduled for open court instead was moved to the private chambers of Magistrate Judge Brooke C. Wells, at the behest of newspaper lawyers.
After about 30 minutes behind closed doors, they emerged with a request from the judge to work out a compromise and avoid formal proceedings on the issue.
Salt Lake City attorney Karra Porter, who is representing the group Citizens for Two Voices, said newspaper lawyers are seeking the ability to treat entire documents in the case as confidential if they contain only a few lines of sensitive information.
Rules sought by the dailies, affecting potentially "millions" of pages of documents, go well beyond protections that usually govern the legal process known as "discovery," Porter said. The restrictive approach, she said, threatens to make the case more time-consuming and costly.
"We're concerned about the burden this creates," Porter said. "They said it would take hundreds of hours for them to go through and figure this out."
Richard Burbidge, lead attorney in the case for The Tribune, left the courthouse without speaking to reporters. In a short email sent later in the day, Burbidge described Wednesday's in-chambers meeting with Wells as part of "the normal mechanics of scheduling and discovery." He did not elaborate.
In court filings and arguments before federal Judge Clark Waddoups, Burbidge and lawyers for the News have contended the lawsuit unfairly intrudes on what otherwise would be a private business matter.
Citizens for Two Voices wants to undo changes made a year ago to a longstanding agreement between The Tribune and News that regulates their joint operations in advertising, printing and distribution for the two newspapers.
Those changes, among other things, transferred control of shared operations to top managers at the LDS Church-owned News, sold The Tribune's stake in printing facilities and cut its split of joint newspaper profits in half.
Supporters of The Tribune Utah's largest newspaper in print readership say the new pact deprives the daily of vital operating cash and threatens to force its eventual closure.
Led by former Tribune employees, the group has sued to reverse the deal.
Executives with the News and The Tribune's owner, New York-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital, have said the revamped agreement executed in exchange for a substantial cash payment by the News to Alden never was meant to damage The Tribune. Instead, they argue, it has strengthened the paper by shedding parts of its print-based legacy and moving it toward a more digitally focused future.
The joint-operating agreement is also the subject of separate ongoing investigations by antitrust lawyers the U.S. Department of Justice and the Utah attorney general's office.