Government & Politics

Bill could end TP’s longtime hold on lucrative legal-notice ads

A bill passed by both houses of the Louisiana Legislature and now on its way to the governor’s desk could end The Times-Picayune’s decades-long monopoly on publishing the lucrative mandatory legal notices from public agencies.

Clarification: The bill and this story refers only to state-required judicial notices issued by various agencies, a substantial subset of all legal notices, bids, advertisements and other “official journal” requirements that now appear in The Times-Picayune.

The Times-Picayune’s status as the paper of record was untenable after it announced it was scaling back its print run to three times a week this fall. State law previously required that legal notices be published in a daily newspaper.

Lawmakers responded last week with a measure governing New Orleans legal notices that deletes almost all references to “daily” newspapers, and potentially gives other local news outlets access to government advertising dollars.

At stake is a reliable advertising base paid by state and local governments to run legal notices in local papers.*

Like the daily paper, the judicial legal notices in The Times-Picayune could come to an end.

The revised public-notice law, House Bill 1144, is now on its way to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s desk for his expected approval. It adds language that could benefit The Gambit, the city’s alternative weekly.

The law says that weekly newspapers with a circulation of above 30,000 will be eligible to run public notices. Gambit’s circulation was around 40,000, according to 2009 figures.

Orleans Parish remains the only parish in Louisiana that requires public notices to run in daily newspapers. The amended law was “condoned by everyone except The Times-Picayune,” State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, said Monday.

Morrell said the lion’s share of the money generated by public notices is spent in New Orleans by the city and the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office. The rest is the state’s typical share of public-notice ad buys.*

Morrell said “the City Council will decide who the reporter will be,” and expected a debate among elected officials over whether The Times-Picayune, The Louisiana Weekly or The Gambit will earn the designation as the official journal.

According to multiple online resources, The Louisiana Weekly does not appear to have a circulation that eclipses even 10,000, let alone 30,000.

State records show that Gambit hired Baton Rouge lobbyist Thomas Jay Spradley on May 29.

The revised public-notice statute was proposed and passed both houses by May 31.

Spradley did not return a phone call seeking comment about his role, if any, in advocating for the amended law.

The lobbying group representing the state’s press isn’t worried about the governor’s veto pen.

“I don’t anticipate by any stretch that [Jindal] is going to veto,” said Johnny Koch, a registered lobbyist with the Louisiana Press Association.

*Correction: This story originally reported that State Sen. J.P. Morrell said the city of New Orleans and the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office spend up to $6 million a year on legal notices in New Orleans, and various state agencies spend another $500,000 to $1 million. Morrell has since told The Lens that he believes those figures, which he got from a lobbyist, vastly overstate the value of government legal notices in New Orleans. (March 27, 2015)

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About Tom Gogola

Tom Gogola covered criminal justice for The Lens from February 2012 to May 2013. He is a veteran journalist and editor who has written on a range of subjects for many publications, including Newsday, New York, The Nation, and Maxim. Gogola was a 2011 winner of the Hillman Foundation Sidney Award, for his groundbreaking report in New York magazine detailing regulatory waste in the commercial fishing industry.

  • Accurate Reporting

    Your story is not accurate. The new law passed only affects judicial notices. It does not have any impact on Official Journals or newspapers’ ability to be named as such. Judicial notices are not paid for with funds from public bodies. Individuals in need of having these notices published pay for the notices — no public monies are involved. Clarity and specificity are crucial when reporting on this subject matter. You have failed to provide either.

  • Jenel

    Serves the greedy carpetbaggers right.

  • The Editor

    @Accurate Reporting: You are correct that this bill refers to a subset of all the small-print notices in the back of the classifieds in the TP. We’ve clarified that with a note in our second paragraph.

    Whether this bill will influence the selection of the official journal is an open question, as explained to us by the legislative aide that drafted this legislation. That’s because state law may be in conflict with city charter, we’re told. We hope to explore this in further reporting.

    We stand by the fact that public bodies pay for these notices; all or some of these costs may be recouped by the plaintiffs or defendants, for instance, in foreclosures.

    The general thrust of the story remains accurate: Other publications likely will be eligible for millions of dollars in revenue that now go to The Times-Picayune.

    Thanks for your careful reading of our story.

    Steve Beatty, The Lens managing editor

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