A settlement was reached yesterday in Lake County News' lawsuit against Lake County Sheriff Frank Rivero, who blacklisted the online news publication and prevented it from receiving press releases and other information that's required by law to be released to the public.
John Jensen and Elizabeth Larson – doing business as Lake County News – and Rivero reached an agreement that calls for the Lake County Sheriff's Office to fulfill several Public Records Act requests that had been stalled, delayed or withheld, and for the news service to once again be given access to press releases from the agency.
In the suit Lake County News asked for information only but is requesting attorney's fees, the amount of which will be determined by a judge.
“We're just trying to obtain information we've requested but have not received,” said Jensen.
Representing Larson and Jensen, Davis attorney Paul Nicholas Boylan said the settlement is the very best possible result in the action.
“I have been saying that Sheriff Rivero holds all the cards in this action, that he could end this lawsuit at any time by agreeing to treat my clients fairly and provide them with information that they are entitled to receive both as journalists and as members of the public,” Boylan said.
“After months of delay, that is exactly what happened: The sheriff changes position, removes my clients from his 'black list' and provided them with information and documents that they requested – and he agreed to a stipulated judgment that can be enforced if necessary should he continue to discriminate against my clients,” Boylan said. “This is an excellent result that advances the causes of government transparency and freedom of information.”
In the lawsuit, filed in Lake County Superior Court in December, Jensen and Larson alleged that Rivero retaliated against them and their publication because Rivero is angry about coverage that has been critical of him.
To justify the blacklisting, which began last October, Rivero accused Lake County News of publishing misinformation and likened the publication to the National Enquirer.
The reporting at issue included a series of articles in which the journalists uncovered that Rivero was under investigation by Lake County District Attorney Don Anderson for allegedly lying about a 2008 shooting in which Rivero was involved while working as a deputy.
That investigation concluded last month, with Anderson determining that Rivero had lied and that he was to be placed on a list of “Brady” officers with credibility issues.
Anderson's findings were released to the public by visiting Judge William Lamb during a March 4 hearing in which Rivero sought a restraining order to prevent Anderson from releasing the findings to criminal defendants, as Anderson is required to do under the 1963 US Supreme Court case, Brady v. Maryland.
Rivero had attempted to exclude the public from the hearing and to have the documents sealed, but Lamb maintained the matter should be open to the public and ordered the findings be entered into public court filings.