A Florida city must pay approximately $750,000 in additional legal fees to government transparency advocates, a Florida judge ruled last week.
Last March, the nonprofit group Citizens for Sunshine and a citizen activist were awarded attorney’s fees in a lawsuit against the City of Venice where they exposed violations of the state’s open records and open meetings laws. The parties settled the suit, which exposed the city’s failure to maintain and archive city e-mail accounts and led to a change in its policy and practice. Friday’s ruling brings the total fee award to $1.4 million, The Associated Press reported.
The City of Venice had attacked the fees requested by Anthony Lorenzo and Citizens for Sunshine asserting that their attorneys "padded their billings," "prolonged litigation" and billed multiple lawyers for identical work.
In his order granting the fees to Lorenzo and Citizens for Sunshine, Sarasota County Judge Robert Bennett generally rejected Venice’s arguments, finding the majority of the hours and rates submitted to be reasonable.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Citizens for Sunshine and Lorenzo after Venice contested paying its legal fees.
“Citizens have always had the right to bring lawsuits such as this one, effectively enforcing open government laws. And when they prevail, it is clear they should never have had to file the lawsuit to begin with, which is precisely the rationale for awarding attorney’s fees and costs,” the brief said.