December 2010: A Public Records lawsuit against Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta was settled for $5,000 in attorney's fees and costs. Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government and Citizens for Sunshine sued, alleging Barbetta didn't fully comply with a public records request. Neither party will have to admit fault according to the settlement.

November 2010: Five medical examiner districts that were charging unlawful automatic flat fees have settled their cases and have paid plaintiffs' attorney's fees totaling more than $34,000.

October 2010: The entire Wauchula City Commission reached a plea agreement after seven commissioners were charged with violating the Open Meetings Law. Each pleaded no contest to a single count and was ordered to pay $325 for fines and court costs as part of their plea agreement. The Mayor must also pay $500 for prosecution costs and the remaining members must each pay $300 for prosecution costs.

September 2010: The National Collegiate Athletic Association and Florida State University will pay a total of $325,000 in attorney's fees to media outlets who successfully sued for access to records in a cheating scandal. The NCAA will pay $260,000 and FSU will pay the remaining $65,000. The fee award is the result of a mediation of disputed legal fees after the Supreme Court upheld the 1st DCA's ruling that documents related to the case, including those the NCAA kept on a password-protected website that were viewed by FSU attorneys, were public.

August 2010 The Sarasota County School Board settled with The Venice Taxpaerys League in an open meetings lawsuit. The school board will pay $26,500 in attorney's fees to VTL.

August 2010: The city of New Smyrna Beach has agreed to pay $20,000 in attorney's fees to settle a lawsuit. Bill of Rights, Inc., which runs the online publication NSB Shadow, sued after the city charged it more than $300 to redact records from a city-issued phone. A circuit judge ruled in favor of Bill of Rights, Inc.

July 2010: Prison Legal News has prevailed in a Public Records lawsuit against private prison company GEO Group. Just prior to a summary judgment hearing, GEO produced the records requested and also agreed to pay $40,000 in attorneys fees according to Frank Kreidler, attorney for Prison Legal News.

February 2010: On the eve of trial, Walton county Commissioners voted to settle a public records lawsuit and pay the resident requesting e-mail records $148,000 in attorney's fees. Walton County Clerk of court Martha Ingle was named in the suit and her office was ordered to pay $6,500 in attorney's fees according to the Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach).

September 2009: A circuit court judge awarded citizen activist Anthony Lorenzo, president of the nonprofit Citizens for Sunshine, $775,000 in legal fees. Lorenzo sued the city of Venice for Open Meetings and Public Records law violations in connection with private e-mail accounts used for public business. Lorenzo and the city settled the suit in March 2009, with the city admitting open government violations. The attorney's fees issue remained and the parties litigated that issue after the settlement. Lorenzo's attorneys, who would have not been paid if the case went to trial and lost, had asked to be a granted a "multiplier" due to the public interest in the case, but did not prevail on that issue. In addition to Lorenzo's $775,000 in legal fees, the city of Venice is also responsible for its own costs defending the case, estimated at more than $600,000.

July 2009: A lawsuit filed by Ted Long, the public works coordinator, against City Manager Sarah Adelt was settled with the city granting access to the records requested and agreeing to pay attorney's fees, according to the News Sun.

April 2009: The Venice City Council admitted to violating the law for not keeping e-mails on the city's computer server and accepted a settlement which included an agreement to pay legal fees for both sides estimated at $1 million.

January 2009: The Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed to pay more than $146,000 to the South Florida News Sun-Sentinel ’s attorneys ending a legal battle that began in March 2005 when FEMA refused to release names of aid recipients. In a related suit, FEMA agreed to pay The News-Press (Fort Myers) more than $100,000 in attorneys' fees.

November 2008: Circuit Judge George Sprinkle awarded Larry Giles, the operator of the Veranda Park News, $180,000 under a Florida statute that protects homeowners associations. Giles counterclaimed a lawsuit that was filed against him under Florida’s anti-SLAPP statute because it intended to stop him from petitioning. The judge ruled that Giles was entitled to triple his attorneys’ fees based on Florida’s strong anti-SLAPP statute.

August 2008: The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office settled a lawsuit alleging the office failed to give the public enough notice of disciplinary hearings. The settlement agreement requires the office to have a training session on open government laws, amend its internal rules and pay $15,613 in attorney's fees to the plaintiff. In exchange, Scott Eliason dropped the suit.

July 2008: Terminated Collier County school district superintendent Ray Baker settled his Open Meetings Law violation with the district for $555,000.

May 2008: Collier County Judge Mike Carr found Marco Island City Council member Chuck Kiester guilty of a non-criminal public records violation for deleting e-mails that contained information about city business from his personal computer. Kiester was ordered to pay the maximum $500 fine.

April 2008: City commissioners have agreed to pay a former Hallandale Beach police officer more than $100,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging, in part, that the city board held an illegal meeting. In 2005, Talous Cirilo was acquitted of three misdemeanor counts of battery on a prisoner. The city refused to reinstate him on the police force, a decision Cirilo alleges was made during an illegal meeting held outside City Hall one week before a scheduled hearing on his reinstatement.

April 2008: The City of Sneads agreed to pay its former chief of police $10,000 and his attorneys $25,000 seven years after he filed a civil suit alleging the city violated Florida’s Open Meetings Law. Former Police Chief William Nelson said he was fired by the town council during a special meeting to which, he alleged, the public was not given proper notice.

March 2008: The Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed to pay 75 percent of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel ’s attorney fees, totaling more than $146,000, to end the legal battle over the release of identifying information of disaster aid recipients after the 2004 Florida hurricane season.

February 2008: The News-Press (Fort Myers) recovered $105,000 in attorney's fees after a successful lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security for the release of information about disaster aid recipients following the 2004 Florida hurricane season. The News-Press and its sister Gannett Co. Inc. newspapers, The Pensacola News Journal and Florida Today, sued after the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a branch of the department, refused to release recipients' names and addresses to the paper.

March 2007: The Tampa Tribune received $28,106 from the Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau to pay the newspaper's legal fees in connection with a public records lawsuit against the bureau. The payment ended a dispute between the newspaper and the visitors bureau over bid preparation for the 2008 Republican National Convention. Tampa lost to Minneapolis in its bid to host the event. The bureau initially refused to release the documents, and the newspaper filed suit claiming that because the city delegated the governmental function of preparing the bid to the bureau, the documents were public records.

March 2007: Florida Keys Community College will pay the legal fees of a newspaper company after the two parties reached a settlement in a First Amendment retaliation lawsuit. Cooke Communications, owner of the Key West Citizen, filed suit claiming its constitutional right to publish without retribution from a government agency was violated. The college did not admit any wrongdoing but did agree to pay $9,000 in court fees.

August 2006: The federal government and five news organizations agreed to pay former nuclear weapons scientist Wen Ho Lee $1.6 million to settle his privacy lawsuit. The Energy and Justice Departments are accused of violating his privacy rights by leaking information to the press.

August 2006: Pinellas county was ordered to pay the St. Petersburg Times’ legal expenses related to a successful public records lawsuit. A circuit judge ruled that Pinellas County violated the Public Records Law when it refused to release a settlement agreement between the county and a former employee. Since the county lost the lawsuit, it must pay the newspaper’s $19,806 legal bill.

June 2006: A doctoral student who sued University of Florida President Bernie Machen for failing to provide some public records was ordered to pay the university's court costs of approximately $1,300. A circuit judge ruled against Charles Grapski in the public records suit.

May 2005: Highlands County was ordered to pay a Sebring man court costs and attorney’s fees for a lawsuit he filed after being charged $65.12 to inspect a hurricane committee’s public records. In considering Preston H. Colby’s lawsuit, Circuit Judge David Langford ruled that the county could charge residents to inspect public documents. However, Judge Langford found that the 30 percent surcharge for employee research time could not be charged.

January 2004: The 5th District Court of Appeal ruled that Hernando County must pay the attorney’s fees of the Coalition for Anti-Urban Sprawl and the Environment (CAUSE). CAUSE filed suit against the county in 2002 over a Wal-Mart Super Center. The group claimed that the development review committee meetings violated the state’s open government laws by excluding the public and, therefore, Wal-Mart’s permit should be invalid. The court found that the meetings did violate the Sunshine Law, but did not invalidate the permit.

April 2003: Dunedin officials agreed to pay more than $3,600 in legal fees to the Liberty Council of Orlando in a settlement reached after the Liberty Council sued the library for not allowing the group to use its public meeting room. The public library declined the religious group access to its meeting room on two occasions, citing that the library’s policy did not allow political, religious and formal social meetings and programs to use the room, exercising separation of church and state. The city will now change its policy, allowing programs of a political or religious nature to use the room.

December 2002: Welaka resident Caron Speas must pay $9,000 in attorney’s fees to Mayor Gordon Sands. She filed an ethics complaint against Sands after a March ’99 election. The State Commission on ethics ruled that the complaint was without merit, and Speas intentionally hurt Sands reputation. An administrative judge determined the outcome of the case.

March 2002: The Miami Herald won $331,000 in legal fees from Dade Aviation Consultant after the Third District Court of Appeal ruled the company’s efforts to keep documents secret could be criminal. The Herald first sued the consulting firm in 2000 after it refused to turn over records indicating how much the firm paid lobbyists who helped win a county contract to manage Miami International Airport’s $5.4 billion expansion project. At that time, the judge said the company did not have to pay legal fees and the Herald appealed.

October 2001: The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office has paid $10,000 in lieu of attorney's fees to The Daytona Beach News-Journal after the office refused to release requested jail transportation logs. The Sheriff’s Office argued that releasing the records would have violated the confidentiality of inmate medical records. Sheriff Jim Manfre settled with the newspaper to pay $10,000, which the newspaper will use to support a Sunshine Law seminar.

June 2001: The Sanford Housing Authority Board agreed to settle a lawsuit with two tenants who claimed the board violated the state Open Meetings Law when they made an agreement behind closed doors allowing four former board members to resign. The housing board members will pay $24,000 in the settlement; $5,000 to the tenants and $19,000 in attorney's fees.

June 2001: Since a 1997 ruling against Prison Health Services for withholding public records from The Ledger of Lakeland, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office has asked Chief Judge Charles Curry, 10th Judicial Circuit, to force the newspaper to pay its legal bills. The Sheriff’s Office argued that the newspaper should have sued only the Prison Health Services and never involved the Sheriff’s Office in the suit. Curry refused to require the newspaper to pay the legal fees, ruling the lawsuit was not frivolous and that public records requests did not have to be put in writing.

April 2001: The Florida Supreme Court ordered Memorial Hospital-West Volusia, Inc. to pay an estimated $100,000 in legal fees to The Daytona Beach News-Journal after the Court ruled that a Public Records Law exemption governing some hospital records cannot be applied retroactively. The 1998 statute exempts records of public hospitals that are leased to private companies, and the newspaper sued for the pre-1998 records of the hospital.

January 2001: Tampa Palms, a community development group, agreed to pay $40,000 in legal fees after deciding not to appeal a judge’s decision that the group violated the Open Meetings Law.

December 2000: A judge ruled that Martin County commissioners violated the Sunshine Law by meeting in closed-door sessions after The Palm Beach Post filed suit against the county. The judge ordered the county to release written transcripts of the meetings and to pay the newspaper’s attorney fees.

November 2000: Judge Manuel Menendez Jr., 13th Judicial Circuit, ordered the Tampa Palms Community Development District supervisors to pay attorney fees for former supervisor, Bob Doran, who sued the district in 1999, citing four Sunshine Law violations. The community development group will pay $40,000 in legal fees.

November 2000: The St. Petersburg Times was awarded $4,750 in legal fee reimbursement after the newspaper filed suit with the city of St. Petersburg when they refused to provide a reporter with copies of public documents. The city has since turned over all documents, and the newspaper is donating the money from the lawsuit to local charities so that community residents are not penalized by their local government's actions.

December 2000: The Town Council of Golden Beach agreed to pay more than $15,000 in legal fees for three town officials, including more than $7,000 for a councilman accused of a Sunshine Law violation. Council member Al Paruas was involved in an Open Meetings Law case in 1999 after he ejected a resident from a November meeting. Investigators with the State Attorney’s Office are still investigating the case. Paruas’ current legal fees add up to $7,125.15.

September 2000: Judge Gasper Ficarrotta, 13th Judicial Circuit, ordered the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football organization to pay legal fees after refusing to turn over public records revealing how they made money from publicly financed Raymond James Stadium. The Hillsborough County Commission was awarded $32,500 and the Tampa Sports Authority $15,000 in the suit.

September 2000: The Nassau County Sheriff’s Office has been ordered to pay legal fees after attorney John Cascone requested records from the office via certified letter. Nine days after the request, Cascone requested a court order, which states the sheriff’s office must release the records as well as pay legal fees.

May 2000: A circuit court judge ordered that the Escambia County School Board members attend a seminar about access to government information and pay the plaintiff $904.92 in expenses after failing to provide school board members’ e-mails and an e-mail address book to a parent.

May 2000: The Miami Herald brought a public records suit against the mayor of Hialeah after the mayor’s office refused to hand over records of phone calls received in the office. When the mayor provided the records, the newspaper dropped the suit. The mayor paid the newspaper $500 in legal fees.

January 2000: Hillsborough County Judge Edward Ward has ordered Tampa General Hospital (TGH) to pay $65,000 in attorney's fees to the St. Petersburg Times and $227,131 to The Tampa Tribune. The newspapers had filed and won public records suits against TGH. In October, Ward had ruled that the hospital's records were public, even though the hospital converted from a public to a private non-profit corporation in 1997. Lawyers for the hospital are appealing the ruling and award.

Florida Public Records and Open Meetings Attorney's Fees Database





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