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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2004


Lee newspaper corp. sues Bellevue

Scuffle brews over designation of official newspaper

Express Staff Writer

Lee Publishing Inc., a Delaware-based corporation that owns and operates the Wood River Journal in Hailey, filed a lawsuit against the City of Bellevue contesting its decision to change the city’s official newspaper from the Wood River Journal to the Idaho Mountain Express.

Lee Publishing alleges the City Council denied the Wood River Journal due process of law. The Bellevue City Council had passed an ordinance June 10 making the change.

The lawsuit was filed in 5th District Court on Thursday, July 8.

Lee Publishing alleges mistreatment by city officials, including Mayor John Barton, City Attorney Jim Phillips, and Councilwoman Vivian Ivie. It also alleges violation of Idaho statutes and the U.S. Constitution.

Lee acquired the Wood River Journal earlier this year as part of a trade deal with Liberty Group Publishing, a Chicago-based company. Lee Publishing Inc. is a subsidiary of Lee Enterprises, a publicly traded company with headquarters in Davenport, Iowa. It is reportedly the country’s 12th largest newspaper company. Lee owns 44 daily newspapers, including the Times News in Twin Falls, and 200 niche publications, including some weekly newspapers.

The Idaho Mountain Express is the only locally owned and operated paper in Blaine County, said Express publisher Morris.

The revenues from legal notices are small. According to the city, Bellevue spent $3,703.80 from Oct. 1, 2003, through July 9, 2004 on legal publications. The rates for legal notices are set by Idaho statute and can only be changed by the Idaho Legislature.

The lawsuit asks for an injunction to prevent the City of Bellevue from changing legal newspapers. It asks the court return the matter to consideration by the council without Ivie’s participation.

It also requests that attorney fees and the costs of the suit be paid by the city, though it asserts, "Damages would be impossible to ascertain because of the loss of reputation suffered by the newspaper."

The suit claims Mayor Barton "was extremely hostile toward representatives of the Wood River Journal. In fact, the Mayor was so hostile as to not allow a full hearing of the merits." It alleges the mayor denied the Wood River Journal due process of law.

The mayor did not have any comment concerning the allegations.

The suit also alleges the ordinance should be set aside because Bellevue City Attorney Jim Phillips has an ownership interest in the Idaho Mountain Express, a conflict of interest. Phillip’s wife, Evelyn, is an owner of the Express.

"I recused myself from the beginning," Phillips said. "Rick Allington has been advising the city on the matter."

The suit also accuses Councilmember Ivie of acting out of personal bias. The company claims that Ivie moved to change newspapers as an act of "prejudice" after friend, Patty Healey, was released from her job of 25 years with the Journal.

According to the suit, Ivie commented to Wood River Journal editor Kristan Kennedy, "So I hear you fired Patty. She is a friend of mine and that’s going to be very bad for you, Very Bad. Just wait." The corporation claims Ivie was partial and should have been ineligible to vote.

At the filing, Kennedy had not signed a sworn verification included with the lawsuit.

In addition to the allegations of personal bias, the lawsuit also contends the council violated Idaho law.

According to Idaho code, a city like Bellevue—in which no newspaper is published—may choose the nearest newspaper published within its home county, or the nearest newspaper of general circulation.

Idaho law defines the newspaper of general circulation as the newspaper with the largest paid circulation as verified annually by a sworn statement filed with the U.S. Post Office.

According to the 2003 statements, the Idaho Mountain Express listed 1,549 total paid and or requested circulation and the Wood River Journal recorded a circulation of 964.

The lawsuit asserts the Wood River Journal should be designated Bellevue’s official newspaper and states the Journal has the most paid subscribers in Blaine County.

The Idaho Mountain Express disputed that claim when Morris appeared before the council and presented published statements from both newspapers listing 629 in-county subscriptions for the Express, while the Wood River Journal recorded 576.

The Bellevue City Council was presented a choice between the newspaper with the largest paid circulation or geographic proximity.

The choice was first brought to the City Council on March 14, when Morris wrote a letter to request the council consider designating the Idaho Mountain Express as the newspaper of record.

Morris appeared before the council on March 25. Following the presentation the council had a general discussion regarding the matter on April 22. On June 10, the council voted to designate the Idaho Mountain Express as the paper of record.

After the decision was made, Lee Publishing filed the lawsuit with the city.

Asked about the decision to sue a city that just lost a bid for more taxes to shore up its cash-strapped budget, Lee Publishing attorney Mick Hodges replied, "they knew the challenge would be coming if they made the decision."



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