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The California Assembly spent nearly $200,000 in legal fees fighting against disclosure of member-by-member budgets that allocate tens of millions in public funds, records show.

Assembly administrator Jon Waldie said the sum does not include hundreds of hours, perhaps more than a thousand hours, consumed by Capitol employees in gathering records ultimately ordered released by a Sacramento court.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley ruled against the Assembly in December, four months after the public-records suit was filed by The Bee and Los Angeles Times.

The Assembly paid up to $300 per hour for services rendered by the Remcho, Johansen & Pursell law firm, records show.

The Assembly paid $123,945 in legal fees to fight the suit and -- because it lost -- the 80-member house was ordered by Frawley to pick up the $73,707 tab for The Bee and Los Angeles Times as well.

Waldie said the issue needed court adjudication. The Assembly had argued that member budgets were preliminary documents, were private correspondence, and contained personnel information.

Frawley ruled that the "strong public interest in disclosure outweighs any reason for keeping the records secret."

Robin Swanson, spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, said that the Assembly's practice had been to release audited annual budget information for 35 years prior to 2011. Expenditure reports were released 12 months after the end of a legislative year.

"Speaker Perez accelerated that process even before the court decision by posting current expenditures online," Swanson said. "Once the court determined that all budget documents, even projections, should be released, the Speaker's Office did not appeal the decision and worked quickly to comply."

* Updated at 1:40 p.m. to include statement from Robin Swanson, spokeswoman for John A. Perez.


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