A state appellate court today struck down a lower court order that threatened to bankrupt Willows newspaper publisher Tim Crews by imposing $56,595 in attorneys' costs and fees after he filed a public records act request.
Writing for the three judge panel, Justice Andrea Hoch concluded that Glenn County Judge Peter Twede improperly imposed the fees on Crews, the owner, publisher and editor of the Sacramento Valley Mirror. The decision can be found here and a profile of Crews I wrote can be found here.
Crews had filed a suit to compel the Willows Unified School District to turn over a year's worth of emails from the then superintendent, Steve Olmos. The district turned over nearly 60,000 emails, but withheld about 3,000 emails.
The justices concluded that while Crews was not the prevailing party in the litigation, his California Public Records Act petition was not frivolous, as Twede had ruled.
The California Newspaper Publishers Association and several publishers including McClatchy Newspapers, Inc., filed a brief in defense of Crews.
The appellate court found:
"Here, the record shows Crews's PRA request was based on his decision to engage in a journalistic investigation of whether Olmos or the District misused public property. The record does not indicate any intent to harass Olmos or the District.
"In sum, Crews's PRA petition was not utterly devoid of merit or taken for an improper motive. Consequently, his action was not frivolous and he should not have been ordered to pay attorney fees and costs."
Tim Crews, 69, editor of The Sacramento Valley Observer, sits at his desk at his newspaper office in downtown Willows in May. Bee photo by Randy Pench.