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Freedom of Information Act Violation Results in $65K Attorney Fee Award

The Associated Press reported that an Iowa town has been ordered to pay $65,000 in legal fees after violating the state’s public records law. The fee award comes after Mayor Jeffrey Grindle refused to disclose a security video depicting a confrontation between him and resident Allen Diercks at City Hall.

Iowa’s Freedom of Information Act allows for the recovery of attorneys’ fees by “prevailing parties who are denied access to public records.” A district court ruled that the video was a public record. The only appeal to the court’s decision pertained to the fee award. The city argued that they did not act in bad faith in refusing to turn over the video and that they had relied on the advice of counsel in their decision. The Iowa Supreme Court later affirmed that the video was a public record and used the ruling to shed light on the attorney award provision under the Act.

The Iowa Supreme Court stated that this case “illustrates the need for attorney-fee awards to motivate private attorneys to represent citizens who are improperly denied access to public records.” The Court also observed that the matter carried on for 16 months before the video was eventually disclosed by the city. The lengthy litigation period contributed to the high amount of legal fees. The Iowa Supreme Court pledged that “the moral here is that you can fight city hall on public records. And if you prevail, city hall will be required to pay your attorney fees.”

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