Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis announced Monday he was giving the Press-Register a second chance to get it right when it comes to running certain types of public notices involved in the probate process.

“You will recall that approximately two (2) months ago we advised that creditor notices in estate administration cases could no longer be printed in the Press-Register because of various unresolved, ongoing problems. I would like to share with you that the Court’s administrative team met with the leadership of AL.COM and the Press-Register last week and based on the presentation made, we are going to give AL.COM and the Press Register another opportunity to publish said notices, with the understanding that if the same problems are encountered, as before, said notices would not be accepted from AL.COM or the Press-Register and there wouldn’t be another opportunity to correct the problem,” Davis posted on the Probate Court’s website.

On Feb. 2, Davis announced on his website Feb. 2 that the P-R would no longer be able to handle creditor notices associated with his court due to what he said were repeated instances of improperly handling the ads and billing. The P-R is one of three publications in Mobile County allowed by law to handle legal advertisements — the others being the Citronelle Call-News and the Mobile Beacon.

“During the past 10 months the Court’s staff has encountered ongoing, significant problems with Alabama Media Group’s Press-Register. Despite repetitive communications (initiated by the Court’s staff), these problems continue. We currently have 13 documented instances where the Press-Register failed to publish notices of the commencement of decedent’s estate cases after request by the Court and tender of payment. In these 13 cases, the checks and publication notice were sent to the Press-Register in July 2014 and it was first realized in November 2014 that there had been no creditor notice published. The Court’s staff has checked with the lawyers in these cases and confirmed that the lawyers’ checks have not been paid by their bank,” an announcement on the Mobile County Probate Court website read. 

“In two other cases, legal notices to creditors were mailed to the Press-Register by the Court in the Fall of 2014 but were just published this month. Surprisingly, one of these publication notices was sent in the same envelope and with the same cover letter as a notice that was timely published. We have also encountered instances where the compliance affidavit described above has not been promptly sent to the Court by the Press-Register,” it continued.

AMG and P-R officials met with Davis last week.

City Council backs change in public notices law
In what can only be described as public notices synergy, just a day after Davis allowed the P-R back in his good graces, the Mobile City Council passed a resolution supporting House Bill 102, which would change the current law to get rid of the requirement that a newspaper have a publications class postal permit before it can publish legal notices.

Full disclosure — Lagniappe has actively supported HB 102, which is sponsored by State Rep. Chris Pringle, because it would allow this newspaper to have the right to sell public notices/legal advertising. By law newspapers that can run such ads must be “newspapers of general circulation,” a designation that includes a stipulation the newspapers have publications class postal permits. This rule precludes such fine newspapers as the one you’re reading from being able to accept legal advertising because in order to get the proper postal permit at least half of our circulation would have to be paid.

The bill is being opposed by the Alabama Press Association and some newspaper publishers, who claim it would open the door to non-newspapers selling legal advertising. However, there is language in the bill to ensure that won’t happen, and the APA has refused to offer any changes to the bill that would satisfy its concerns. Former Press-Register Editor Michael Marshall is currently APA president.

How the postal permit requirement ensures that public notices are being handled properly is hard to explain, especially since the Press-Register has demonstrated that it is no guarantee the law will be followed. The US Postal Service does not monitor how such advertising is handled by publications with such a permit.

As I write this, HB 102 will be discussed in committee in Montgomery April 1, so you’ll have to wait until next issue to see how it turns out. As for the unsolicited resolution by City Council, members expressed a desire to see local government have more options when it comes to purchasing public notices, as well as to see free enterprise and competition expanded.

Council President Gina Gregory said she hoped a change in the law could also save the city some money.

Hough passes away
For the second week in a row we have to report on the passing of a well-known former member of Mobile’s broadcast media.

Long-time WKRG meteorologist and feature reporter Jere Hough passed away in Boston March 26. He was 74.

Hough worked at WKRG for 21 years. Besides his work with the weather team he was probably best known for his folksy “County Road 5” series of reports, which took him to some out-of-the-way parts of the viewership area to interview “regular folks.”

Hough started with WKRG in 1988 and left in 2009 to pursue teaching, which the station described as his “first love.” He and his wife Barbara moved to Boston to be near their sons.