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Appeals court upholds traditional legal organ rules

GEORGIA - Georgia’s appeals court upheld a decision that strikes down a county’s efforts to change its legal organ to an out-of-state newspaper.

Judge Stephen Dillard

The constitutional officers in Catoosa County voted in 2017 to change the county’s legal organ to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, effective Jan. 1, 2018, after 68 years in the Catoosa County News.

Although the Chattanooga paper has circulation in north Georgia, including Catoosa County, the newspaper is edited, published and printed in Tennessee. The Times Free Press does have a leased distribution center in Ringgold.

A local trial court granted the News a temporary restraining order and, after a hearing, a permanent injunction against the change. The court ruled the Chattanooga paper was statutorily ineligible to be the official legal organ of Catoosa County because, unlike the News, it is not published in the county.

The Court of Appeals upheld the ruling. It the opinion, written by Chief Judge Stephen Louis A. Dillard, the court notes that state law requires a newspaper obtaining legal organ status “shall be published within the county and continuously and at least weekly for a period of two years or is the direct successor of such a newspaper.”

A 1932 case set a precedent that, for location, publishing a newspaper is defined as more than the “mere distribution” of the paper or “having it entered at the post office for distribution.”

Presiding Judge Sara L. Doyle and Judge Amanda H. Mercier concurred with the decision.