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Date of Issue: April 16, 2008

Newspaper seeks sanctions against city

A judge is reviewing The Islander newspaper’s quest for sanctions and fees in a case involving the city of Bradenton Beach.

Attorneys for the newspaper and the city appeared before Manatee County Circuit Court Judge Edward Nicholas on April 7 to discuss the paper’s request.

The motion was filed over a city effort to collect legal fees from The Islander in the paper’s lawsuit alleging the city violated the public records and Sunshine Law statutes.

Last spring, the newspaper sued the city seeking to obtain public records related to the investigation of a sexual harassment complaint made by a city employee against a co-worker. The newspaper also alleged the city violated the Government-in-the-Sunshine Law that requires officials to conduct business in the open.

A judge in the fall concluded that the city wrongly withheld some records but he found insufficient evidence that the city violated the Sunshine statute.

The next court go-around involved a dispute over legal fees - the newspaper sought to recover more than $75,000 from the city and the city sought to recover more than $50,000 from the newspaper.

In that dispute, Nicholas denied the city’s claim to recover fees and awarded TheIslander less than $6,000. The newspaper has appealed the ruling regarding its award.

The newspaper also returned to Nicholas’ courtroom last week to argue that it should be reimbursed the expenses incurred to argue against the city’s motion to collect fees.

“I do not take sanctions lightly at all,” said Islander attorney Kendra Presswood, daughter of newspaper publisher Bonner Joy.

Presswood said the paper’s request was “entirely justified” and argued that the city failed to present a valid legal argument for pursuing fees from the paper.

City attorney Ricinda Perry said the government’s argument can be found in the Florida Statutes section 286.011, which states that “the court shall assess a reasonable attorney’s fee … if the court finds it was filed in bad faith or was frivolous.”

“We felt there was certainly a reasonable basis to bring a motion for attorney fees,” Perry told the judge.

Presswood, dismissing that citation, said that the court specifically found that the newspaper’s case was not frivolous.

Nicholas said he planned to issue an opinion as early as this week.

For more information on the case, documents are filed under docket No. 41 2007 CA 002271 at the Manatee County Courthouse in Bradenton.