Publication switch sparks dispute over foreclosure notices

Paul Brown defends on several grounds his decision to switch publication of property foreclosure notices from a daily newspaper to two weekly newspapers.

Not only is the display advertising format of the notices in the weekly papers easier to read than the long columns of smaller type that appeared in the daily paper, but publishing the notices in the weeklies costs about half as much as publishing the notices in the same format in the daily.

“That was exactly what I was asking for,” said Brown, who as Mesa County Public Trustee handles foreclosure filings, notices and sales.

Jay Seaton, publisher of the Daily Sentinel, counters that Brown has no right under state laws to dictate the format of foreclosure notices. Moreover, publication in the Sentinel actually offers a better value, Seaton said. Published in the column format, the price is the same even though the Sentinel has 10 times as many readers.

Faced with a substantial loss of advertising revenue, Seaton said he’s exploring several options, including legal action, to regain foreclosure publications.

Meanwhile, Brown said the dispute appears to have become personal given the number of stories that have been published in the Sentinel about the change. “I hate to admit this, but it’s become personal. My opinion is, Jay is making it personal.”

Seaton disagreed. “There’s no personal element to me. It’s clearly become personal to him.”

Brown said state law requires that property foreclosure notices be published for five consecutive weeks in a local publication. In some counties, notices are published in more than one publication, he said.

In Mesa County, foreclosure notices long had been published in the Sentinel. Brown decided to switch the publication of those notices to the Fruita Times and Palisade Tribune, starting with the Nov. 10 issues of the two weekly newspapers.

Brown said the change followed problems earlier this year in which notices that appeared in the Sentinel contained errors after information on foreclosure forms was reset in the column format. When notices contain errors, the publication process must start over again, he said.

Brown said he met with representatives of the Sentinel six times between May and September trying to resolve the issue.

Following a procedure used elsewhere in Colorado, Brown said he started to investigate the possibility of electronically scanning legal notices and publishing them in that format to avoid mistakes. He said he received proposals to publish the notices in the display ad format for $280 for five insertions in the two weekly newspapers and $641.55 for five insertions in the Sentinel.

Banks and other entities foreclosing on property pay for the expense of processing foreclosures, including publication costs, Brown said. The exception occurs if a property owner pays a delinquent loan before the foreclosure process has been completed. In that case, the property owner pays for the process, Brown said.

Over the course of a year, the cost of publishing foreclosure notices can be substantial, Brown said. In 2010, fees paid to the Sentinel totalled $487,000, he said. So far in 2011, fees have exceeded $350,000, he added.

While Seaton acknowledged a mistake appeared in a foreclosure notice published in the Sentinel, he questioned the proposal process. He said public trustees have no right to dictate the format of foreclosure notices, including the display format Brown requested. “We don’t have to use it and we won’t use it,” Seaton said.

The proposal from the Sentinel was higher, Seaton, said because of the additional paper that would have been required to publish the notices in the display ad format. Published in the column format, though, the Sentinel charges the same amount as the two weeklies to publish the notices, he said.

While the two weeklies have a combined press run of less than 2,400, the Sentinel publishes between 25,000 and 29,000 papers a day, Seaton added. Consequently, banks and other entities that pay to publish foreclosure notices don’t reach as many readers, he said. “They’re getting a lot less for the same dollar.”

Brown agreed the Sentinel offers more readership than the Fruita Times and Palisade Tribune. “I can’t argue with that.”

In addition to publication in the two weeklies, though, Brown said the printed foreclosure notices are distributed to the Mesa County Courthouse, local city halls, library branches and the offices of local lawyers and real estate firms. The notices also are available online at the Web site at www.mesacountylegals.com.

Brown said banks and other entities paying for the foreclosure process have the option of choosing where to publish notices. But as of a Nov. 10 interview with the Business Times, no bank had yet exercised that option, he said.

Phil Castle is editor of the Grand Valley Business Times, a twice-monthly business journal published in Grand Junction. Castle brings to his duties nearly 30 years of experience in editorial management positions with Western Colorado newspapers. In addition, his free-lance work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor's degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University.
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