Small California publisher wins public records case

From San Jose Mercury News:  A state Court of Appeal has ruled that a small-town California newspaper publisher does not have to pay legal fees to a school board he sued over his public records request —a decision hailed by First Amendment advocates as a victory for government transparency.

A loss in the case could have chilled the public and journalists from challenging government agencies that are withholding documents sought under California's Public Records Act, said Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition (FAC). He said that fear of being hit with legal fees could deter people from suing to obtain public records.

"This has reaffirmed that people have a right, if they are denied public records, to go to court and try to get that decision reversed and as long as it's in good faith you won't be in the disastrous position of having to pay the government's legal fees," said Scheer. "Had it gone the other way, all bets would have been off."

FAC organized the appeal and, with one of its board members, underwrote the paper's legal expenses.

First Amendment Coalition is a member of NFOIC. –eds.