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The Sun’s move raises question in legal circles

A 1981 Rhode Island Supreme Court case, which narrowly defined the meaning of publish, calls into question the ability of The Westerly Sun to meet the letter of the law in publishing foreclosure notices following the newspaper’s move to Pawcatuck last year.

State statute requires that foreclosure advertisements be published in a daily newspaper within the county of the foreclosed property. The court case further defined the word published as a newspaper with its main office in the same county.

Eliot White, publisher and president of Sun Publishing Co., said he was notified of the issue in mid-September when a Providence attorney placing a foreclosure ad brought the situation to his attention. That lawyer also consulted with attorney Michael Mellion of Providence, who serves as counsel for Fidelity National Title Insurance Co., and publishes R.I. Underwriting Bulletin, a legal newsletter.

Mellion made reference to the 1981 case Beaufort vs. Warwick Credit Union, in which the court ruled that a newspaper had to have its home office in the county of the advertised property in order to meet the requirements of the statute. White said he asked the newspaper’s attorneys, Blish and Cavanagh of Providence, to look into the case when he was made aware of the situation, and Mellion issued an email notice a day or two later, on Sept. 13, noting that The Sun had moved to Connecticut.

White noted that The Sun’s attorneys were consulted before the company moved on Aug. 18, 2012, from 56 Main St., Westerly, to 99 Mechanic St., Pawcatuck, a distance of less than one mile, to determine whether the change in location would present any problems for the newspaper. He also noted that based on the statute, no newspaper meets the standard of the statute. There is no daily newspaper with its home office in Washington County that also distributes primarily in Washington County, White said.

Following The Sun’s move last year, the Rhode Island Press Association board of directors voted to allow the paper to retain its membership because the newspaper’s primary coverage area is in Rhode Island and the bulk of the newspaper’s circulation is in Rhode Island.

White said the company’s attorneys advised him that publication of foreclosure notices in The Sun fulfills the intent of the law, that being to inform as many people as possible of such a sale in their county. A number of attorneys continue to post foreclosure advertisements with The Sun despite the notification from Mellion, White said, while some have stopped using the newspaper.

The issue was the subject of a television news report Monday by NBC affiliate WJAR of Providence regarding a couple’s complaint filed against a law firm. The Cranston couple was in the process of buying a foreclosed home in South Kingstown when the law firm handling the closing for them indicated that the foreclosure had to be re-advertised because the advertisement in The Sun did not meet the standards of the state statute. The couple filed a complaint against the firm, claiming the attorneys should have known of the situation.

White said the relocation of the newspaper’s office last year was publicized in advance of the move and that the address is published daily on the editorial page. In addition, the address of the newspaper is printed on all bills and on affidavits mailed to attorneys who place foreclosure ads as proof that the advertisement was published.

“This is important local content and an important revenue source for The Sun,” White said.

White said he will seek help from local legislators in getting the statute amended.

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