May 2016: The Manatee County Commission rejected Commissioner Robin DiSabatino's request for reimbursement of her legal bills arising out of a case accusing her of violating the state's Public Records Law, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported. DiSabatino defended herself in a three-yearlong battle against Michael Barfield, a paralegal with Citizens For Sunshine. Her legal fees exceeded $30,000, including $6,500 she paid to settle the lawsuit. County attorneys did not defend her because the records at issue had been stored on DiSabatino's personal computer. Please see the May 2016 Brechner Report for more information.
January 2016: A three-judge panel for the 1st District Court of Appeal overturned a decision to award attorney's fees to a group that filed a public records lawsuit against the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Chief Judge L. Clayton Roberts, writing for the appellate court, found that Consumer Rights had failed to comply with a notice requirement in seeking the attorrney's fees and, therefore, was not entitled to those fees. Please see the January 2016 Brechner Report for additional details.
January 2016: A federal judge in the Northern District of California charged the internal Revenue Service over $239,000 in attorney's fees and costs for refusing to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request. Please see the January 2016 Brechner Report for more information.
December 2015: The city of St. Pete Beach is expected to pay more than $1.2 million in attorneys' fees for cases and settlements related to Florida's Sunshine Law. The city commission most recently agreed to pay $496,000 over a three-year period to attorneys Ken Weiss and Tim Weber for their representation of resident Jim Anderson, who sued the city over closed commission meetings. Please see the December 2015 Brechner Report for more details.
November 2015: The Board of Trustees of the City Pension Fund for Firefighters and Police in the City of Tampa settled with Dennis Ribaya following Ribaya's 90-day exclusion from board meetings after he was given a no-trepassing warning. Ribaya sued in Circuit Court seeking a ruling that his 90-day exclusion violated the Sunshine Law. While the trial court dismissed the suit in August 2013, the appeal court disagreed with the trial court and became the first Florida court to find that misuse of no-trepassing laws could violate the Sunshine Law. While the pension board denied any wrongdoing, it paid Ribaya's litigation costs ($1,293.30) and his attorneys' fees ($120,000) as part of the settlement negotiations. Please see The Back Page of the November 2015 Brechner Report by David M. Snyder for more information.
September 2015: Gov. Scott and the state agreed to use $1 million of taxpayer money to settle several public records lawsuits. The settlement is believed to be one of the largest payments made in a public records case in Florida's history. See the September 2015 Brechner Report for more details.
July 2015: A firefighter has filed a third public records lawsuit against the town of Palm Beach. Weeks filed two previous lawsuits against the town. The lawsuit filed in April 2014 is on appeal. The town settled the lawsuit filed in August 2014, agreeing to pay Weeks’ $5,218 in attorney’s fees and produce the records. See the July 2015 Brechner Report for additional information.
July 2015: The Florida Senate offered to reimburse legal fees for 21 senators involved in a public records lawsuit. The Senate authorized up to $5,000 for each senator to hire a private lawyer to defend each of them after subpoenas were issued for information in a lawsuit related to redistricting. The $105,000 allotted to the senators for private counsel will be added to the more than $1 million the Senate is already paying to defend themselves in the case brought by the League of Women Voters. See the July 2015 Brechner Report for more information.
February 2015: The 5th District Court of Appeal awarded attorney's fees to Susan Hewlings for the second time. The appellate court found that Orange County's second appeal, which raised no new issues from the first appeal, was frivolous. The court's ruling granted attorney's fees to Hewlings and sanctioned Orange County for the "frivolous and abusive appeal." (Orange County v. Hewlings, No. 5D13-3775)
January 2015: The city of Lakeland settled a public records lawsuit for $95,000 plus legal fees, ultimately totaling at least $160,000, according to The Ledger (Lakeland). Public records advocate Joel Chandler filed a lawsuit against the Lakeland Police Department in 2010, alleging that charging a flat fee for public records was improper. The LPD agreed to abolish the flat fee policy and to arrange for employees who work with public records to take training classes led by the First Amendment Foundation as terms of the settlement.
October 2014: A judge ruled a State Attorney's Office violated Florida's Public Records Law and ordered State Attorney Angela Corey's office to pay Curtis Lee's legal fees for his lawsuit against the office, according to The Florida Times-Union.
June 2014: The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) lost a public records suit against a Collier County couple, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. DBPR was ordered to pay $6720 to the couple for expenses they incurred.
February 2014: The Police Department was investigated by a grand jury regarding their public records policy, and Lakeland City Officials spent approximately $225,000 in attorney's fees to keep the grand jury presentment sealed, according to The Ledger (Lakeland).
January 2014: Orange County officials accused of violating Florida's Public Records Law have agreed to enter settlement discussions in a pending civil lawsuit, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Each party will pay their own attorney's fees but the county will pay mediation fees. Orange County officials estimated their legal fees at $158,000 and Citizens for a Greater Orange County estimated they had spent approximately $50,000 in legal fees. The settlement stipulates that the county will pay $90,000.
January 2014: The city of Sarasota settled its lawsuit with Citizens for Sunshine, Inc. The city admitted violating Florida's Open Meetings Law and agreed to pay $17,680 in attorney's fees to the government watchdog group. City Attorney Bob Fournier estimated the total cost of the lawsuit to be about $50,000, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported.
December 2013: The city of Venice settled a lawsuit brought by Citizens for Sunshine. As part of the settlement agreement, they will pay $2,607 in legal fees to Citizens for Sunshine's attorney.
October 2013: Orange County has spent aproximately $120,000 in legal fees after deleting text messages about goverment decisions. Following an investigation into the "textgate" scandal, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the state attorney did not file criminal charges but imposed a $500 fine on the officials.
July 2013: The city of Sarasota entered into an agreement with Citizens for Sunshine. In the agreement, Citizens for Sunshine voluntarily dismissed its lawsuit over the selection of a contractor for the $7.3 million State Street public garage project, and the city agreed to pay Citizens for Sunshine's attorney's fees and costs, up to $10,692. The city also paid the city attorney's office $17,954.
May 2013: In a final judgment, Judge Robert Egan of the 9th Judicial Circuit awarded the town of Windermere $90,435 in attorney's fees and other court costs in a lawsuit for alleged Sunshine violations.
April 2013: The city of Sarasota paid $15,274 to plaintiffs' attorneys and $6,693 to the city attorney's office to settle a lawsuit over Sunshine Law problems in the Homeless Advisory Task Force organized by City Manager Tom Barwin.
February 2013: Lakeland resident Joel Chandler and the Polk County School Board have reached a settlement agreement of a public records lawsuit which includes the Board paying Chandler's legal fees of $13,000.
November 2012: The city of Sarasota settlement of a lawsuit filed against them by activists alleging violation of the Sunshine law, included $7,000 in legal fees and $3,000 to hire an outside attorney to represent one of the committee members individually named in the suit.
November 2012: A judge ruled that the city of Vernon will have to pay $3,900 in attorney fees and costs for violating the state's Sunshine Law.
July 2012: The 5th District Court of Appeal ruled that a county was responsible for paying attorney's fees to a successful records requester where the county failed to comply with the request for 45 days.
June 2012: A County judge fined booker Young Jr., guilty of violating the state's Sunshine Law and fined him $67 for the civil violation and ordered him to pay $500 to the State Attorney's Office for investigation and prosecution costs.
March 2012: Circuit Judge James H. Daniel ruled that a Duval County activist was entitled to $1,245 for expenses he incurred in his lawsuit against the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund, but said that the fund did not act willfully in breaking the Public Records Law so it would not be liable for his attorney's fees.
September 2011: Curtis Lee, Director of the Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County, took the Jacksonville and Fire Pension Fund to court over approximately $3,000 in charges for public records. Circuit Judge James H. Daniel ruled that although the fund didn't act willfully in breaking the Public Records Law, it still attempted to overcharge Lee for accessing its records. In addition to its own $160,000 in legal fees, the fund might also be responsible for part of Lee's attorney's fees.
August 2011: Robert Chandler sued Zephyrhills over a book the city produced, challenging the cost of the book and taking issue with sales tax being charged. City council members agreed to lower the cost of the book, stop charging sales tax and will also pay $4,000 for his legal fees.
April 2011: The Martin County Business Development Board settled an open government lawsuit filed by a Treasure Coast area attorney. As part of the settlement, the board paid Virginia Sherlock $61,546.58 in attorney's fees and costs as well as $500 in nominal damages. It spent $226,831.56 on its own legal fees defending the case.
February 2011: Citizens for Responsible Government and Citizens for Sunshine lost an open government case against Sarasota County. The two citizen groups appealed but the county prevailed and was awarded almost $20,000 in litigations costs.
February 2011: The city of Coral Springs has agreed to pay $90,000 in attorney's fees for two commissioners accused of violating the Open Meetings Law, suspended from office but later reinstated after a judge dismissed the charges during trial.
February 2011: Riviera Beach agreed to pay $85,000 in legal fees to activist Fane Lozman in an open meetings lawsuit. A trail court judge and the 4th District Court of Appeal agreed with Lozman's contention that failure to keep the written minutes of agenda review meetings violated Florida's Open Meetings Law.