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Firefighters Union Ordered to Pay $23k in Attorneys Fees in Public Records Case

In a ruling that one public records attorney called “unprecedented”, a California judge has ordered a firefighters’ union to pay the attorneys fee of a public watch dog group who sought the release of records that the union sought to block.

The People’s Vanguard of Davis, a public watch-dog group, sought to obtain information about the Davis Fire Department, and in particular information contained in a report prepared by investigator and city  Ombudsman Robert Aaronson.

While portions of the report were made available to the public, portions of the report were redacted. The Vanguards filed suit against the city in April, 2012 to obtain an unredacted version of the report. The firefighters’ union, Davis Professional Firefighters Association, IAFF Local 3494,  intervened in the suit seeking to ensure that information protected from disclosure by the California Public Records act remained confidential.

The case was settled in May, 2012 with significant portions of the report being released and the Vanguards claiming victory.

The Vanguard’s web site quoted the judge as ruling: “Petitioner succeeded in obtaining the relief he sued to obtain – the release of a less redacted copy of the Aaronson report. DPFA cites no authority to support its contention that its success against petitioner, as opposed to respondent’s success, is the relevant inquiry for an award of fees against it under section 1021.5.”

The web site also quoted their attorney, Paul Nicholas Boylan as saying: “Judge Mock’s order was exceptionally well-written and well-reasoned. … It not only applied the law in a prudent judicial manner, Judge Mock’s opinion clarified the law, holding that a union intervening in an action to stop the release of information will be treated no differently than a public agency that tries to prevent the public from accessing public records or information.”

“Prior to this case, unions felt free to intervene in actions for the purpose of keeping information secret without any consequence if they lost. … Now they know that, if they try to keep information from the public, and they lose, they will also be required to reimburse petitioners for the time and effort it took to obtain the information.”

The total bill for Local 3494: $23,345. More on the story.

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