Lake County News settles lawsuit with sheriff
Published: Monday, March 11, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 12:14 p.m.
A local Lake County news team Monday settled its discrimination lawsuit against Sheriff Frank Rivero.
Lake County News founders Elizabeth Larson and John Jensen had contended in a January lawsuit that Rivero "blacklisted" them from press lists and put up unfair barriers to Sheriff's Office records.
Under the terms of a stipulated judgment, a judge could hold Rivero in contempt of court if his agency doesn't follow state public record laws outlined in the agreement signed last week and made public Monday.
The order applies to information sought by any party and not just Lake County News, according to Davis attorney Paul Nicholas Boylan, representing Larson and Jensen.
"If you're worried about being treated unfairly by the sheriff when it comes to the dissemination of information, there's nothing that will let you rest easier than this; it solves the problem," Boylan said.
Rivero, reached by phone late Monday, said that his agency has always followed public record laws and pointed out that he didn't admit to any wrongdoing in the settlement.
"This was a draw; we did nothing wrong," Rivero said. "The only thing the document says is that everybody acknowledges what the law is and everyone will follow the law."
The lawsuit was a culmination of years of tensions between Rivero and the husband-and-wife team behind Lake County News, Jensen and Larson.
Last fall, Rivero directed his staff to stop sending press releases to Lake County News by email. Rivero said the emails were a courtesy and he was under no obligation to extend that courtesy to a news outlet he asserted has been biased and inaccurate.
Larson and Jensen filed the lawsuit to ask a judge to instruct the Sheriff's Office how to respond to media requests, order the agency to comply with state public record laws and stop discriminating against certain media outlets.
The agreement did just that, Boylan said.
"This is an enormous advancement for open government in Lake County," Boylan said.
As part of the judgment, Rivero agreed to provide Lake County News with a slew of documents they requested, including digital audio recordings of radio traffic during a November call.
But Rivero on Monday said that he is providing the audio files at no cost in this circumstance only and that future parties that request audio recordings must pay a fee.
"The only thing that they got is that tape that they had asked for," Rivero said. "The rest of it was a neutral settlement with no winner and no loser."
A judge will decide if the county will cover Lake County News' attorney fees.
You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or email@example.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.