The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a friend-of-the-court brief today in a Florida open records dispute urging the award of attorney’s fees in a case where government officials had clearly flouted open government laws.
The brief was filed in support of a citizen activist and non-profit group, Citizens for Sunshine, whose lawsuit brought to light violations of Florida’s open records and open meetings laws by the City of Venice. Venice settled the case after admitting it had violated the open government laws, in part by failing to maintain and archive e-mail accounts for elected city officials.
Those who brought the suit are now seeking to recover attorney’s 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.
“When citizens — or public interest groups, the news media, or anyone — step forward to bring such lawsuits and prevail, they must not be penalized for doing so, as a denial of attorney’s fees and costs here would effectively do,” it continued.
The case is Lorenzo v. City of Venice, in the Circuit Court in Sarasota, Fla. The law firm Holland & Knight worked locally with the Reporters Committee to file the brief.