This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Salt Lake City's two daily newspapers are seeking to derail a lawsuit targeting their business operations.
After almost two years of litigation, attorneys for The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News have filed motions asserting that a grass-roots group suing them over their partnership lacks legal standing to proceed because it doesn't have official members.
They are asking U.S. District Judge Jill N. Parrish to halt a court-ordered exchange of documents and convene a hearing on whether Citizens for Two Voices has a valid stake to move forward with its challenge.
The group of former Tribune employees and other community members sued owners of the two dailies in June 2014, aiming to undo changes to the papers' longstanding joint-operating agreement (JOA) they contend have damaged The Tribune's financial status and threaten its survival.
All sides agreed to a six-month halt in litigation. That pause ended in January, when Citizens for Two Voices sought documents held by The Tribune's top managers at New York-based Digital First Media (DFM) and executives over the LDS Church-owned News.
Federal Judge Clark Waddoups ruled in 2014 in favor of the group's legal standing, before the case was transferred to Parrish.
In the latest filings, Richard Burbidge, attorney for The Tribune's parent company Kearns-Tribune, argues the grass-roots group recently revealed membership policies "that call into serious doubt whether it has (or ever had) standing to pursue its claims."
Its apparent lack of formal members, Burbidge wrote, raises questions on whether Citizens for Two Voices can demonstrate legal injuries from the two newspapers' business dealings. The papers are asking for a halt in turning over any more documents until those questions are resolved.
They also are seeking to tighten confidentiality protections on documents they have already given.
In previous filings, the newspapers have referred to 500,000 pages of documents that they handed over to the U.S. Department of Justice, which is investigating the revised JOA.
The citizens' group called the challenge to its standing "a stalling tactic" and said document production should proceed.
Its lawyer, Karra Porter, said the governing board of Citizens for Two Voices is authorized to sue. As Tribune subscribers and advertisers themselves, Porter added, board members have suffered sufficient harm from the newspapers' actions in diminishing The Tribune's financial footing to have legal standing.
Porter also said Friday the group had simply followed state laws covering nonprofits with regard to how it treats membership.
"Those laws don't require card-carrying members anymore."