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Date of Issue: April 23, 2008

Newspaper seeks sanctions against city

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

Manatee County Circuit Judge Edward Nicholas issued his ruling April 15, stating that he had reviewed the newspaper’s motion and other filings, heard arguments and determined, “The plaintiff’s motion for sanctions is denied.”

Attorneys for the newspaper and the city had appeared before 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 Bradenton Beach 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 concluded that the city wrongly withheld some records, but he found insufficient evidence that the city violated the Sunshine statute.

The newspaper then sought to recover more than $75,000 from the city and the city sought to recover more than $50,000 from the newspaper.

Nicholas denied the city’s claim to recover fees and awarded The Islander less than $6,000, a decision that the paper has appealed.

The newspaper also asked that it be reimbursed the expenses incurred to argue against the city’s motion to collect fees. The paper claimed the city lacked a valid argument for seeking fees and the city argued otherwise.

Responding to Nicholas’ latest order, Islander attorney Kendra Presswood said, “I am troubled that the court did not sanction the city’s attorneys for filing a motion they either knew or should have known had no legal basis whatsoever. However, I am not surprised.”

Presswood, daughter of Islander publisher Bonner Joy, added, “Unfortunately, very rarely do judges actually sanction such conduct by government attorneys, which I believe is the reason it continues.”

City officials last week said the decision was good for Bradenton Beach. Mayor Michael Pierce declined to comment, other than saying he wanted to see the dispute end.

City attorney Ricinda Perry could not be reached for comment.