Attorney General investigating possible Gazette-Mail antitrust violation

Written by Zack Harold

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has filed a petition in Putnam County Circuit Court, seeking documents for an investigation into possible antitrust violations by the Daily Gazette Company, which merged the Charleston Daily Mail and Charleston Gazette in July to form the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

The petition was filed last Thursday, Aug. 13. You can click here to read the whole document. But if you’d prefer not to read a 156-page document, stay here for a brief synopsis.

Morrisey subpoenaed the newspaper company on July 21, directing it to answer questions and produce documents about the merger no later than July 31.

“The Attorney General has probable cause to believe an apparent merger of the Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail newspaper may violate the West Virginia Antitrust Act,” the petition reads.

As I reported last month, the Gazette and Daily Mail had been competitors for more than 100 years until the publications were unceremoniously merged on July 19. But the papers had been owned by the Daily Gazette Company, the Gazette‘s parent company, since it bought out the Daily Mail in 2004.

The buyout led the U.S. Justice Department to file an antitrust suit against the company in 2007, alleging the Daily Gazette Company was trying to shut down the Daily Mail and establish a monopoly. That suit was settled in 2010 with a final judgement which returned control of the Daily Mail to Colorado-based MediaNews Group and forbade the Daily Gazette Company from changing the arrangement for five years.

The final judgement expired on July 19, 2015, the same day newly appointed Gazette publisher Susan Shumate informed employees the papers were merging.

“Obviously the operators of the two former newspapers conspired, during the pendency of the Final Judgment, to do exactly what the Final Judgment prevented them from doing—merging the operations of the daily newspapers into one. This conduct, if proved, is a violation of the Antitrust Act,” Morrisey’s petition reads.

The newspaper’s lawyers rejected the attorney general’s request for information about the merger, claiming Morrisey’s office had no probable cause to issue the subpoena.

Morrisey is requesting the Putnam Circuit Court force the Daily Gazette Company to answer his questions, and forbid “further merging” of the newspapers until the company complies with the subpoena.

As those who have been following the story probably realize, the papers will be fully merged by this Friday, Aug. 21. All newsroom employees were forced to reapply for a jobs in the newly-combined newsroom, and there will not be room enough for everyone. The newspaper plans to have all those hiring decisions completed by Friday.

It is also worth mentioning the Gazette is currently suing Morrisey, over his refusal to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request related to the release of emails related to Morrisey’s relationship with drug distributor Cardinal Health, where Morrisey’s wife works as a lobbyist.

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