SEATTLE (AP) _ A judge on Thursday ruled against The Seattle Times, stopping it from dissolving a 20-year-old publishing agreement with its rival, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

The ruling means The Times cannot pursue its effort to dissolve the agreement and shut down the smaller P-I.

``It's a big victory,'' said Guy Michelson, an attorney for the P-I. ``We're very happy.''

Seattle Times spokeswoman Kerry Coughlin said The Times will assess its legal position. ``The JOA has become a failed business model that threatens the survival of an independent newspaper,'' she said.

Under the agreement, The Times handles the circulation, distribution and other non-news functions for both papers in exchange for a greater share of their joint profits.

The Times says the agreement is no longer financially viable. It invoked a provision that allows the parties to end joint operations if either sustains three consecutive years of financial losses. The Times said it has lost money in 2000, 2001 and 2002.