California Daily Recovers Legal Fees

Article excerpt

Gets $283,333 in payments from government agencies that violated public disclosure laws "I don't think any newspaper can fight every battle but if you fight enough of them and pick your battles carefully, you'll wind up sending a loud message that the newspaper cares enough about these issues to go to court," said M-N executive editor Bob Ingle.

WHEN THE SAN JOSE Mercury News recently received a $50,000 check from the state of California, there was satisfaction but not surprise.

In the past three years, the newspaper has recovered $283,333 in legal fees as the result of successful First Amendment challenges of government agency practices.

The latest payment follows the state's agreement to resolve a 1990 Mercury News lawsuit to require public disclosure of settlements reached with victims of a freeway collapse in the 1989 korea Prieta earthquake.

The M-N eventually reported that California paid $69 million to victims and their attorneys and an additional $2 million to investigate the case.

Here are the other M-N court victories and the dollar amounts recovered:

* $50,000 from the city of Fremont, which settled a two-year-old suit that alleged that Council members on three occasions had violated the state's open meeting law. The Council, which spent $2 million in public money defending itself, promised to follow the law in the future.

* The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration forked over $2,516 after a federal judge ordered it to answer questions raised in the paper's lawsuit about narcotics thefts in hospitals and pharmacies.

* Reimbursed legal fees of $72,000 came from the U-S. Department of the Navy, which had refused to turn over records of recruiting irregularities. …