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Attorneys fees awarded in newsrack suit

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Attorneys fees awarded in newsrack suit

  • A California court of appeals affirmed that the city of El Paso de Robles must pay The San Luis Obispo Tribune and Raike Publishing Corporation attorneys fees and court costs following their successful lawsuit against newsrack restrictions.

June 30, 2004 — The city of El Paso de Robles must pay The San Luis Obispo Tribune and Raike Publishing Corp. attorneys fees and costs for their successful lawsuit against an unconstitutional restriction on newsracks, a California appellate court held June 15.

The Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles upheld a Dec. 16, 2002, trial court order that awarded the Tribune and Raike legal fees of $77,274 and $15,357, respectively. It further ordered a permanent injunction preventing El Paso de Robles from implementing ordinances that restrict the number of newsracks allowed on any given block in the city. The ordinances would have also created a lottery system for a spot on blocks with a high concentration of newsracks. Winners of the lottery could have renewed their location permit indefinitely, to the exclusion of all other publications.

The appeals court affirmed that the freedom to distribute information is as essential as the freedom to publish it.

Under California law, three requirements must be met to recover attorneys fees: the legal action must have resulted in the enforcement of a right affecting public interest; a significant benefit must have been conferred on the general public or a large class of people; and the public benefits and financial burden of prosecution must outweigh the potential economic benefits to the party seeking the costs, the court said.

The appellate court found the newspaper and publisher’s suit met all three requirements. First, the ruling “preserved an important right for the public, which is embedded in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution: the right of free expression of new ideas.” Second, the ruling grants a significant benefit to the general public by “preserving their right to be informed of different points of view through desirable, inexpensive forums at all times of the day.”

Finally, the court ruled that the public benefits outweigh the benefits for the publications, holding that newsracks for the Tribune , a Knight Ridder publication, account for only one percent of the sales of its daily newspaper, while newsracks for Raike account for only 15 percent of distribution of its free Homes magazine.

(San Luis Obispo Tribune v. City of El Paso de Robles; Media Counsel: Dennis D. Law, Andre, Morris & Buttery, San Luis Obispo) AV

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