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Illegal Legal Ads

Salt Lake City alone spends at least $30,000 annually in legal notices. We don't see a nickel of it.



I recently gave testimony to a Utah House of Representatives committee hearing comments regarding changes to laws that include or exclude certain newspapers from the lucrative category of publishing legal notices. This newspaper is one of many in Utah—and among several that are members of the Utah Press Association—that has thus far been excluded from accepting legal notices. Salt Lake City alone spends at least $30,000 annually in legal notices. We don't see a nickel of it. Multiply that by every municipality in the valley. Add in attorneys, contractors, trust and title agents and all the rest, and it makes for a tidy little monopoly for a select few recipients.

But last week was different. For the first time in recent memory, a house committee was actually going to listen to various issues regarding legal notices. Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, chaired the hearing that began with 11 House members in attendance and at least one missing. Halfway through, one fellow left. I can't say I blame him.

The bill being examined is House Bill 178, sponsored by Rep. Scott Chew. A Uinta Basin Republican, Chew is carrying the banner for a local classified newspaper, The Basin Nickel, which is delivered to most of the homes in Vernal, Utah. Thus, it carries classified ads of every stripe—except legal notices, which—by very definition—are indeed classified ads, but which are reserved for Vernal's general-information newspaper, The Vernal Express.

Like us, The Basin Nickel does not qualify to accept legal ads, having been judged on some dubious merit as being unworthy. The owners of The Basin Nickel testified that their newspaper is larger than The Vernal Express, that it is part of the fabric of life in Vernal and that they just want to see people get information about legal matters.

Representatives from The Vernal Express and the Utah Press Association both testified that such papers aren't real newspapers, and at least two "independent" persons told the committee that similar broadsides are either considered junk mail by the postal service or are quickly tossed in the trash heap by homeowners.

Well, one man's trash is another man's treasure, and blood runs thicker than water, ever always for me. So, when The Basin Nickel owners gave their last name as Caldwell, I knew I was listening to testimony from a dear lost cousin, and sure enough, me and the Caldwells are descended from Utah pioneer, settler, Mormon Battalion member and polygamist Matthew Caldwell. I'm basically related to everyone from Roosevelt to the Colorado border. As it turns out, these Caldwells run through the matronage of Barzilla Caldwell, wife No. 1. I'm from No. 5, Nancy. No matter, that means I have to root for the Nickel. The only thing they don't have, it seems to me, are two lobbyists named Doug Foxley and Frank Pignanelli.

I began my own testimony by expressing thanks for being allowed to wear my Utah red colors. A few chuckles. I then apologized to anyone on the committee that City Weekly may have broadsided over time, to which Chairman Powell noted he had. (For the record, I would like to say to Mr. Powell that I agree that drones should not fly over forest-fire zones and that even as a former smoker, I sympathize with him trying to make buying cigarette products illegal under the age of 21. I just don't see it happening.) I also thanked anyone City Weekly had said good things about for their great wisdom.

I then "droned" on until Powell cut me off at the 2-minute mark, but not before noting the unfairness of the present statute, that in this Internet age, the statute is an archaic interpretation of what a newspaper is, that no one could deny that City Weekly is a newspaper of general interest, that we are members of the Utah Press Association, and that if the public interest and notifying them efficiently were really the issue, then the House and Senate would amend the wording to be more inclusive. I said it was odd that an institution that is broadly known to keep government out of the private business sector would actually condone and support a monopoly for a select business class. And finally, on that very day I testified, City Weekly had just printed more papers than the Deseret News did, so what gives? I guess nothing, because I was the only speaker of eight who was asked no questions.

The committee voted to continue the bill and to clarify who can solicit legal notices. That seemed like a small victory so I walked outside into the hall and was soon met by one of the committee members, a very nice and smart man who identified himself as a reader and fan of City Weekly. I hesitate to identify him, as guilt-by-association with me should not be his burden to bear—it's already rough enough up there.

I thanked him, then just threw up all over MediaOne, the company that operates The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News and that has historically stymied legal-ad modifications. "Eff MediaOne and the tactics they used to keep their legal-notices monopoly secure! MediaOne sucks," and so on. Feeling really good about myself, I asked a nice-looking man standing next to me—and who had heard my full-monty diatribe—which district he represented. He recognized me for the dummy I am, and said, "I don't represent a district." Ooops. Yep, foot firmly in mouth, it dawned on me who it was, my newest very bestest friend, Trent Eyre, vice presidente of advertising for MediaOne. I told him he could use my words against me anytime he pleased.

He just smiled. Nice guy, that Trent. Too bad he works for Beelzebub.

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