City board OKs $11,000 to The Sun for legal fees

Money will be donated to open-government cause

February 03, 2005|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

The city's Board of Estimates voted yesterday to pay The Sun $11,000 for legal fees and other expenses incurred in the newspaper's successful fight for information about a domestic dispute involving former police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark.

The paper plans to donate the money to National Sunshine Week, a public awareness campaign for open government sponsored by newspapers and broadcasters, said Sun Editor Timothy A. Franklin.

"The Sun's going to be aggressive about pursuing public information at any level of government," said Franklin, who is on the campaign's steering committee. "The Clark documents clearly were public records. The court upheld that finding. I hope as a result of this that public officials in the city and across the state realize that public information should be just that - public information."

The city solicitor declined to comment.

The Sun and WBAL-TV filed a lawsuit against Mayor Martin O'Malley in June, seeking access to an investigative report about a May 15 domestic dispute between Clark and his fiancee.

Howard County police investigated the incident and provided a report to O'Malley in early June. O'Malley announced at the time that investigators could not find evidence to support domestic assault charges. But the mayor refused to release the report, saying it was a personnel matter.

O'Malley fought the lawsuit but lost in two courts and released the report at 5 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 2. The report showed that Clark had been involved in previous domestic disputes that required police involvement.

A week after the report's release, O'Malley fired Clark, saying that the abuse allegations, while unproven, had eroded his ability to lead the department. Clark has since filed a $120 million suit against O'Malley, claiming wrongful termination.

Although The Sun and WBAL sued jointly, the $11,000 reimbursement was made only to The Sun because the newspaper incurred a greater share of the legal expenses, according to Michelle Butt, WBAL's news director, and Stephanie Abrutyn, an attorney for the newspaper.

"It does not fully compensate The Sun or 'BAL for fees incurred to get release of these records," Abrutyn said.

Sunshine Week is organized by the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Radio Television News Directors Association.

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