A federal judge in San Francisco has agreed to fast-track a lawsuit challenging the already-consummated $1 billion deal involving the sale of the San Jose Mercury News and Contra Costa Times.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston OK'd an agreement between lawyers from both sides to take depositions, exchange documents and file motions on an accelerated schedule so Clint Reilly's lawsuit against MediaNews Group, the Hearst Corp. and other newspaper companies can go to trial Feb. 26.

Sacramento-based McClatchy Co. this year bought the now-defunct Knight Ridder Corp.'s 32 newspapers for

$6.5 billion. From among those, the Mercury News and the Contra Costa Times were sold Aug. 2 for $736.8 million to Denver-based MediaNews — which owns this newspaper — and the Monterey County Herald and the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press were sold for $263.2 million to New York City-based Hearst, owner of the San Francisco Chronicle.

In a separate, simultaneous pact, Hearst agreed it will give the St. Paul and Monterey papers to MediaNews in return for an equity investment in MediaNews' non-Bay Area assets; if the government won't OK that, MediaNews will simply buy those two papers from Hearst. Either way, MediaNews will wind up with all four papers.

Reilly, a San Francisco businessman, political consultant and 1999 mayoral candidate, sued July 14 to halt the deal, which he says would create a Bay Area newspaper monopoly with higher subscription and advertising rates and diminished journalistic quality, jobs and union contracts.


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Illston in July refused to grant Reilly a temporary restraining order to keep the deal from going through, but cautioned the newspaper companies that if he eventually prevails, part or all of it might have to be undone.

Reilly's lawyer, Joseph M. Alioto, issued a statement Monday saying he and his client "are grateful that the court has ordered an expedited trial date in this very important antitrust case which seeks to prevent the monopolization of newspapers in the Bay Area."

MediaNews President Jody Lodovic offered no comment Monday except to note the case was accelerated by mutual agreement. Hearst spokesman Paul Luthringer said his company wouldn't comment.

The U.S. Justice Department's antitrust division cleared the deal last month, and California Attorney General Bill Lockyer's office wrapped up its probe last week; both concluded the deal won't harm competition.

Reilly filed a similar lawsuit against Hearst in 2000 to halt its purchase of the San Francisco Chronicle. After a trial in which Hearst executives and others were compelled to testify under oath, a federal judge let the sale proceed.

Contact Josh Richman at jrichman@angnewspapers.com.