Judge in News-Press vs. Independent Copyright Suit Dies

Oft-Postponed Case Once Again Hanging in Limbo

Edward Rafeedie - the U.S. District Judge presiding over the current copyright infringement suit against the Independent by the Santa Barbara News-Press - died Tuesday, following a year-and-a-half-long battle with cancer. As reported in today’s issue of the Daily Journal, Rafeedie’s death marks the end of an extensive Los Angeles-based legal career that included 25 years as a judge. The suit involving the Indy will be transferred to another judge as a result. Specifically how this will affect the outcome of the case remains unknown.

Nick Welsh

One of the more successful of the News-Press‘s recent legal ventures, the suit involves two instances of alleged copyright infringement by the Indy. In the first, the News-Press is charging that an unpublished article by reporter Scott Hadly was posted on the Indy‘s website. (Hadly’s article detailed the internal strife between News-Press reporters and management. The News-Press never printed it. On November 19, Rafeedie ruled that the matter should go to trial.) In the second, the paper is charging that Independent executive editor Nick Welsh obtained a different unpublished article - this one by reporter Vlad Kogan on the details of the News-Press‘s arbitration against its former executive editor, Jerry Roberts. Welsh actually told Kogan he had the article but claims it was a bluff - and a common reporter trick at that - used to try to get information from Kogan. The News-Press apparently doesn’t believe Welsh, and has since been attempting to make Welsh reveal the source that gave him the article that he claims he never really had.

The merits of the second aspect of the suit remain up in the air, as Rafeedie had not ruled on whether these claims merited being tried in court. Indy lawyers claim that Welsh’s sources - existent or nonexistent, presumably - would be protected by journalist shield laws. A ruling by Rafeedie would have decided whether this matter would make it to trial and whether Welsh would have had to reveal his sources. The ruling did not happen and would now have to come from a different judge.

A trial date for the allegations relating to the Indy‘s appropriation of the Hadly article had initially been scheduled for January, but a variety of factors - among them, Rafeedie’s illness, and, according to some, his annoyance with a case that he said should be settled - continually pushed the matter back. It’s currently scheduled for sometime in spring, but will have a new judge presiding over the matter if the two papers agree to let the matter go to trial. In the meantime, the papers report to Magistrate Judge Andrew Wistrich - whom Rafeedie appointed to handle the matter. As it stands now, the papers must tell Wistrich whether they will settle by April 1.

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