By: Staff reports
Three West Coast Newspapers Win Battles
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by Joel Davis
Three West Coast newspapers have been awarded legal fees by courts
that ruled public agencies violated open-record laws by withholding
The Bay Area city of Richmond has paid more than $230,000 in
court-ordered fees to the San Francisco Bay Guardian, ending a
seven-year legal fight over the city’s attempt to keep police
discipline records private.
In Washington, Seattle public schools must pay $66,000 in attorneys’
fees to the jointly operated Seattle Times and Seattle
Post-Intelligencer for withholding documents on a former high-school
teacher who committed suicide.
The Bay Guardian sought information on citizen complaints against
the Richmond Police Department. After a protracted legal battle, the
city was ordered to release some records, resulting in a Bay Guardian
investigative series reporting that two out of three Richmond police
found guilty of misconduct between 1993 and 1997 had their charges
California law provides that the prevailing side in a public-records
lawsuit can be reimbursed for legal fees. The decision in the Bay
Guardian case has been hailed as a victory for public access, and the
$231,885 in legal fees is said to be the most paid by a public agency
in California for withholding public records.
In the Seattle case, the withheld information concerned complaints
filed about inappropriate contact between teacher Thomas Hudson and
his pupils. The school district backed Hudson’s wife’s efforts to
withhold the information. However, a judge ordered the release of
the information, ruling that it was of legitimate public interest.
Joel Davis (email@example.com) is West Coast editor for E&P.
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