OCTOBER 1999: An appellate court has affirmed the initial award of $8,030, plus interest and appellate attorney's fees, to Barbara Herskovitz, a private citizen. She had filed a public records lawsuit against Leon County. In June, Judge Terry Lewis, 2nd Judicial Circuit, ruled that given the nature of volume of the materials that Herskovitz requested, the county's delay in producing them was reasonable (See December 1998 summary below).
JULY 1999: A circuit judge awarded the St. Petersburg Times attorney's fees in a suit against the governing foundation of Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital, even though he previously had decided that the foundation was exempt from state access laws. The case stemmed from the paper's public records request to the hospital and a request to attend meetings.
MAY 1999: The Vero Beach City Council settled a Sunshine Law suit brought by community activist Frank Zorc for $575,000. About $300,000 of that went to his attorney, Jon Kaney of Daytona Beach. The city also paid $456,000 in legal fees to its own lawyers. Recently, in a 5-0 vote, the council decided against a malpractice suit to recover part of the fees.
APRIL 1999: The former health-care provider for the Polk County Jail has agreed to pay The Lakeland Ledger $22,500 in legal fees the newspaper spent during its successful public records suit against the company. The Ledger sued Prison Health Services in 1997 to obtain the details of a $500,000 settlement paid to the widow of a man who died in jail in 1995.
DECEMBER 1998: Judge Terry Lewis, 2nd Judicial Circuit, ruled that a private citizen, Barbara Herskovitz, was entitled to recover $8,030 in attorney's fees and court costs from Leon County in a public records suit against the county. Herskovitz claimed that the county was not precise in identifying some 9,000 confidential documents and that the delay in producing documents was unreasonable (See also October 1999)
SEPTEMBER 1997: Orange County paid $35,000 in settlement costs and $15,000 in attorney’s fees to settle a lawsuit stemming from a closed meeting. A county committee had met behind closed doors to discuss a construction company’s protest of a contract award.
JULY 1997: Judge John J. Hoy, 15th Judicial Circuit, ordered Florida Atlantic University President Anthony J. Catenese to pay attorney's fees of $8,595.90 and taxable costs of $533.40 to a plaintiff in her public records lawsuit. Sandra K. Norton had sued Catenese for the release of documents related to the spending of a $10 million gift from Charles E. Schmidt to the university. In a previous ruling, Hoy ordered Catenese to release the documents.
JUNE 1997: The Lantana Town Council voted to pay a local resident $1,426 in legal fees to settle a lawsuit in which the town was accused of violating the Open Meetings Law. The town did not admit wrongdoing. The resident sued after the town released a statement indicating the council had decided not to seek prosecution of former Mayor Robert A. McDonald, who resigned and repaid the city $50,000 that he had deposited into his business' bank account. Town Manager Ron Ferris said the statement was poorly worded and that the council members had not formally decided what to do about McDonald. Ferris said the statement was based on his conversations with individual board members that indicated "a general feeling" that McDonald should not be prosecuted.
JUNE 1997: Judge Robert Boylston, 12th Judicial Circuit, ruled that Ken Peterson, a private citizen, was entitled to recover attorney's fees from the city of Anna Maria in a public records suit against the city. Peterson had to wait 26 days for records, which Boylston said was unreasonable and constituted an unlawful refusal to produce public records. Boylston also ruled that the city's charge of $112.95 for the records.
MAY 1997: Martin County commissioners admitted violating the Open Meetings Law by settling lawsuits in closed-door meetings and agreed to pay The Palm Beach Post $15,900 in attorney's fees. The Post had sued in February after learning that the commission had agreed to settle a number of lawsuits in executive session without taking a public vote on the settlements. The settlements were approved in a public vote when the commission voted to settle the lawsuit by the Post.
APRIL 1997: The city of Fort Pierce agreed to pay $15,000 in legal expenses incurred in a public records dispute by The Stuart News/Port St. Lucie News, although the city did not admit any wrongdoing. The dispute stemmed from a memo written by City Manager Dennis Beach saying that Amy Rippel, a reporter for the newspaper, could not view public documents without a written application, an appointment and Beach's approval. Beach wrote the memo after Rippel published a story against Beach's wishes about the city's ongoing negotiations to purchase a theater in connection with a redevelopment project. Also, the city was charging the newspaper 10 cents more per copy for public records than other newspapers.
NOVEMBER 1996: The Duval County School Board agreed to pay The Florida Times-Union $25,000 for attorney's fees in a court action filed by the paper seeking the release of transcripts of closed school board meetings. In 1995, Judge Virginia Q. Beverly, 4th Judicial Circuit, ruled that the meetings should have been open to the public and ordered the release of the transcripts. The ruling was upheld in 1996 by the 1st District Court of Appeal.
SEPTEMBER 1996: The 5th District Court of Appeal held that the town of Eatonville must pay attorney's fees and court costs after violating the Public Records Law. The ruling reversed a lower court ruling that the town was not obligated to pay fees and costs because the town was too small and did not have the financial resources. Michael Barfield sued the town after being denied access to public records related to the opening of a topless club in the town. He sought $65,000 in attorney's fees from the town.
SEPTEMBER 1996: The Palm Beach County School Board agreed to pay $39,000 in attorney's fees and court costs to resolve a public records action filed by the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and The Palm Beach Post. The 4th District Court of Appeal upheld a judgment against the Palm Beach County School Board awarding attorney's fees and court costs incurred by The Palm Beach Post and the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel in a public records lawsuit. 15th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Moses Baker had ruled that the board violated the Public Records Law by refusing to release a survey that was commissioned by the board and conducted by a private research company. Baker awarded the papers $30,163 in attorney's fees and court costs and ordered the research company to pay an additional $345.
AUGUST 1996: Judge R. Wallace Pack, 20th Judicial Circuit, ordered State Attorney Joseph P. D'Allessandro to pay $2,054 for attorney’s fees and court costs incurred by the Ft. Myers News-Press after the paper obtained a court ruling releasing portions of a surveillance audiotape recording of a Ft. Myers city council member. The judge had ruled that those parts of the tape that been had been released to the council member's attorney by D'Allessandro's office were no longer exempt criminal investigative information under Fla. Stat. § 119.07(3)(b).
JUNE 1996: To resolve a public records action filed by the St. Petersburg Times, Tampa General Hospital stipulated in court documents that it illegally withheld public records concerning the search for a new president of the public hospital. The hospital agreed to pay $12,100 to the newspaper for attorney's fees and court costs.
FEBRUARY 1996: The 5th District Court of Appeal held that Dunnellon Mayor Larry Winkler violated the Open Meetings Law by not naming two attorneys who attended a private city council meeting. As a result, the city was ordered to pay nearly $17,000 for the attorney's fees of Dunnellon police Sgt. Luis Aran, a non-media party who had requested the records.
MAY 1995: A 1st Judicial Circuit Court judge ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Department to pay more than $6,200 to the Northwest Florida Daily News for attorney's fees and court costs incurred to obtain access to a convicted serial killer's confession.
MARCH 1995: The Ocala Star-Banner was awarded $5,473 for attorney's fees and court costs after gaining access to police records dealing with a 1989 criminal complaint filed against a private citizen who later became a city employee. The trial court had ruled that the records were exempt criminal investigation materials, but the 5th District Court of Appeal reversed.
NOVEMBER 1994: Following a court order commanding the City of St. Petersburg to permit St. Petersburg Junior College to inspect and copy certain documents, a 6th Judicial Circuit court awarded the college attorney's fees incurred in the court action.
OCTOBER 1994: The 2nd District Court of Appeal awarded attorney's fees to a law firm that had sued to gain access to water authority records. The trial court had refused to award Smith & Williams attorney's fees for its litigation against West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority. Smith & Williams sued the water authority to gain access to records of payments to private attorneys handling water authority litigation.
JANUARY 1994: The Palm Beach County Property Appraiser's Office paid $5,000 in costs to settle a public records suit brought by The Downtown Group, Inc., a non-media party which sought access to appraisal records of certain West Palm Beach properties.
DECEMBER 1993: The Palm Beach Post won $55,222 in attorney's fees and court costs from the Palm Beach Community College Foundation, which had tried to keep its financial records secret, arguing that it was not covered by the Public Records Act.
OCTOBER 1993: The Palm Beach Post won access to a written agreement settling a sexual harassment lawsuit that had been filed against the City of Lake Worth. The city agreed to pay all of The Post's $17,421 in legal fees.
AUGUST 1993: Broward Circuit Judge Mietta K. Burnstein ordered the City of Plantation to pay $4,220 in legal fees and costs to reimburse Daniel and Susan Vermut, non-media plaintiffs.
JULY 1993: The Palm Beach County School District paid $2,800 in legal fees and costs to The Palm Beach Post for refusing to provide copies of a proposal to settle a grievance filed by its former lawyer.
JULY 1993: Hillsborough Circuit Judge Manuel Menendez awarded $11,837 in legal fees and costs to be paid to the St. Petersburg Times by Tampa General Hospital for withholding public records.
JULY 1993: The Florida Times-Union won an award of $23,000 in legal fees from Harry L. Shorstein, as State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit, for his office's failure to provide access to investigatory records.
MARCH 1993: The Clay County School District and Superintendent Ann B. Wiggins were required to pay $5,500 in fees incurred by Florida/Tampa Television, Inc. (WFLA-TV Channel 8, Tampa) and reporter Steve Andrews as part of a settlement agreement. Andrews and WFLA sought school construction and fire inspection records.
APRIL 1993: The 4th District Court of Appeal affirmed a circuit court's ruling that the Palm Beach Community College Foundation's financial records are open to the public and affirmed an award of attorney's fees and court costs to The Palm Beach Post. A Palm Beach circuit judge had ruled that the foundation had to open its financial records to the public and ordered the foundation to pay the Post's attorney's fees.
AUGUST 1992: The 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that the results of a polygraph examination conducted by a private firm as part of a police investigation were public records. The ruling stated that the Tampa Police Department improperly refused to give James P. Wisner the results of his polygraph, claiming that the test was not part of the records because it was held by a private polygraph examiner. The city was ordered to pay Wisner's attorney's fees and court costs to obtain test results.
AUGUST 1992: The state Department of Environmental Regulation paid $3,875 to a non-media party, Floral Greens International, for unlawfully withholding an environmental study conducted by the University of Florida in which Floral Greens was a subject.
JUNE 1992: A Palm Beach circuit judge ruled that the Royal Palm Beach Village Council violated the Sunshine Law when it sold a parcel of land. The judge voided the sale and reserved jurisdiction to award costs and attorney's fees.
JUNE 1992: The Osceola School Board settled a public records dispute with Orlando Sentinel. The paper agreed not to collect attorney's fees awarded by the trial judge and the school board agreed to drop its appeal and to open all meetings concerning public business. An Osceola County circuit judge had ruled that the school board violated the Sunshine Law and ordered the board not to hold any more closed-door meetings. Circuit Judge R. James Stroker also awarded more than $15,000 in attorney's fees to the Orlando Sentinel in the ruling, which the school board had appealed.
FEBRUARY 1992: The state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services paid $44,250 in legal fees to The Tampa Tribune. HRS lost a public records lawsuit over internal reports examining cases in which children die from abuse and neglect.
DECEMBER 1991/JANUARY 1992: A Lee County circuit judge voided an action of the School Board of Lee County and awarded more than $30,600 in attorney's fees to the plaintiffs in a Sunshine suit against the school board. Judge William C. McIver ruled that the school board and a committee created by the board violated the Sunshine Law by not properly advertising their meetings.
NOVEMBER 1991: Palm Beach Circuit Judge Stephen A Rapp ordered the Palm Beach County Solid Waste Authority to pay $17,548 to reimburse Magill Properties for attorney's fees in a public records lawsuit over a two-page letter on solid-waste removal and treatment.
NOVEMBER 1991: The St. Petersburg City Council and the Chicago White Sox agreed to pay half each of a $100,000 legal bill incurred by the St. Petersburg Times in a Public Records Law case. The case arose from the 1988 negotiations with the baseball team to play in the Florida Suncoast Dome and a refusal by the team to provide the newspaper with access to the draft lease. The Times donated $57,836 to the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information.
NOVEMBER 1991: The City of Delray Beach, having lost a public records lawsuit, settled an attorney's fee claim by Michael Barfield, a non-media plaintiff seeking access to police investigative records, for $15,000.
MAY 1991: The Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services paid $3,568 in attorney's fees and court costs to the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. HRS paid the fees after losing an appeal in the 4th District Court of Appeal. The agency had sought to withhold records pertaining to hospitals cited for refusing to accept patients.
FEBRUARY 1991: Palm Beach County Sheriff Richard Wille paid $5,000 in attorney's fees after the court found he had unlawfully withheld documents from a private investigator.
DECEMBER 1990: Palm Beach Circuit Judge Richard L. Oftedal ordered Palm Beach County Sheriff Richard Wille to pay the attorney's fees of The Palm Beach Post after Wille denied the newspaper access to transcripts of taped interviews. The paper had sought access to transcripts of interviews with alleged sexual assault victims of a suspect in a murder investigation. The court ruled that the transcripts were public records because they were available to defense attorneys in the case under state evidence rules.
AUGUST 1990: The City of West Palm Beach paid $6,500 in attorney's fees to settle a public records lawsuit brought by attorney Frank Kreidler of Lake Worth. Kreidler sought resumes of applicants for city manager, and was told by city authorities he would have to go to an Atlanta consultant's office to review such documents.
APRIL 1990: Circuit Judge Dean Moxley ordered Brevard State Attorney Norman Wolfinger to pay more than $31,000 to the Orlando Sentinel and Florida Today for legal fees incurred trying to gain access to prosecution records in the murder trial of William Cruse. Before Cruse's trial in 1989, Wolfinger denied reporters' requests for copies of autopsy records, Cruse's blood-alcohol tests, ballistics reports and other records.
APRIL 1990: Broward Circuit Judge Patricia Cocalis ordered the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services to pay the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel $7,637 in legal costs resulting from a 1988 lawsuit. The newspaper had sued HRS for access to 10,000 pages of unusual-incident reports. In her order to release all the reports, Cocalis said the agency appeared to be trying to thwart reporters' investigations.
MARCH 1990: Judge John Gordon awarded the Miami Association of Firefighters, Local 587, $5,500 in attorney's fees in a lawsuit against the City of Miami. The union sought documents pertaining to a special investigative panel the city established to review the fire department.
MARCH 1990: Circuit Judge Kevin Davey awarded $7,000 to an environmental group after ruling that that nine Jefferson County officials violated Open Meetings laws on four occasions in 1989. Davey ruled that a recess of a county commission meeting and several inspection tours were in violation of the law. All the violations related to the commissions consideration of a proposed Texaco petroleum terminal in Lloyd.
MARCH 1990: Youth Homes of Florida paid the St. Petersburg Times $17,000 in attorney's fees. The youth organization lost a public records lawsuit over access to personnel records and employee disciplinary records. The Times later donated the award to the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information.
JANUARY 1990: Palm Beach Circuit Judge Mary Lupo awarded $4,200 in fees to the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel in a case against the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. The newspaper sought access to HRS documents concerning a complaint by one Palm Beach County hospital against another for an alleged failure to treat a patient.