“A judge has ordered Encinitas to pay $54,860 in legal fees to a Los Angeles attorney who won a California Public Records Act lawsuit this year to win the release of a draft report on city road conditions, reports San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Jonathan Horn. “That adds to the $24,957 the city spent unsuccessfully defending itself in the lawsuit.”
Superior Court Judge Timothy Casserly on Monday ordered the city to pay the fees to attorney Dennis Winston. Winston’s hourly rate is $350, and was multiplied by 1.25 because he took the case on contingency, according to the ruling.
“I’m just happy that the Public Records Act prevailed,” Winston said.
Mayor James Bond disagreed, saying the ruling on the fees should not stand.
“I really thought that the suit was somewhat baseless, so I’m guessing that we’ll review that in closed session and my position would be that we ought to attempt to appeal it,” Bond said.
A group of Encinitas residents led by Kevin Cummins sued the city in August 2010 over its unwillingness to release the draft of the $96,900 road conditions report by Nichols Consulting Engineers of Reno. The group was as interested in open government issues as road conditions.
The law allows a government agency to withhold preliminary drafts of documents, but not all drafts. Also, if a draft would be normally retained, it is subject to disclosure.
Cummins pressed the lawsuit even after the final report was released. The judge ruled on May 24 that the city must release the draft because it was inconsequential once the final version had been published.
The report found the city’s overall road conditions to be in the “good to excellent” category, with a score of 73 out of 100. It needs to spend $2.8 million per year to maintain those roads, although that won’t address the backlog.
Cummins also requested internal communication from staffers regarding the report and its development, but the city said those records do not exist, Winston said.
Dennis Winston is president of Californians Aware.