City of Milpitas, former city manager Tom Williams liable for legal fees over reverse public records act lawsuit

Tom Williams, former city manager of Milpitas, California. | 

October 16, 2018 |

In a ruling issued earlier this month, a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge has ruled that the former Milpitas, California city manager is personally liable for a portion of legal fees in the case involving the California Public Record Act.

The ruling (posted below), issued on October 4 by Judge Sunil R. Kulkarni, ordered Milipitas' former city manager Tom Williams pay San Rafael-based First Amendment Coalition (FAC) to pay a portion $7,750 in legal fees. Kulkarni also ordered the City of Milpitas $92,000 and $1,260 in court fees to FAC.

The rulings comes after over a year of litigation against both Milpitas and Williams. FAC prevailed in its lawsuit on May 25, when Judge Kulkarni ordered the city to release documents relating to allegations of serious misconduct by Williams.

The city originally withheld the documents in part based on a “reverse California Public Record Act” lawsuit filed by Williams in 2017. In that lawsuit, Williams obtained a court order temporarily preventing the city from releasing records about himself.

“Judge Kulkarni’s order awarding FAC’s attorneys fees is further confirmation that the city should never have withheld these important records - and that Mr. Williams’ effort to prevent their release was misguided,” said FAC Executive Director David Snyder said. “We are grateful the court got it right here, and that the lawyers who so capably represented FAC’s—and the public’s—interest will be compensated for bringing to light records about misconduct at the highest level of city government.”

Under the California Public Records Act, when government agencies refuse to release records but are later forced to do so as a result of a lawsuit, the agency must pay the records requesters’ “reasonable attorneys fees.” This “fee-shifting provision” reverses the ordinary rule of litigation, which is that each party must pay its own attorneys. It provides important incentives and protections for the public and public-interest organizations like FAC to bring lawsuits to enforce the state’s open-records law.

FAC filed suit on June 2, 2017 challenging Williams’ “reverse CPRA” lawsuit and force Milpitas to release the records. The previous month, FAC had requested records relating to accusations of poor performance and misconduct by Williams, including allegations that he used a city credit card to pay personal legal bills.

William, who was subsequently hired by the City of Millbrae, California has denied any wrongdoing.

Elk Grove News is a member of the First Amendment Coalition.

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