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Lake County ordered to pay in news site's dispute with sheriff

Lake County must pay $110,990 in attorney's fees accrued by a local news organization that sued embattled Sheriff Frank Rivero for discrimination, a judge ordered this week.

On the heels of the ruling, supporters of a movement to recall the county's top lawman announced Friday they were within 1,000 signatures of the 7,026 needed by Aug. 15 to let voters decide whether to oust Rivero before his term ends in January 2015.

Rivero has led the Lake County Sheriff's Office with a brash management style he has said was aimed at rooting out corruption. That approach has left him sparring with other county leaders, police departments and the local online news site Lake County News.

Lake County supervisors voted in March to ask Rivero to resign. The sheriff refused.

Rivero had been critical of Lake County News stories about him and has said he felt justified in removing the group from press release lists.

The group sued Rivero saying he violated public record laws and in March settled with a judgment that found the sheriff can be held in contempt of court if his office does not follow public records laws.

Tuesday's decision by visiting Judge J. Michael Byrne putting the county on the hook for Lake County News' legal costs is reaffirmation that "it's a reporter's right to report the news without retaliation," said Paul Nicholas Boylan, the news group's Davis-based attorney.

"I'm very happy to have been paid for my time, but in reality this case should not have happened," Boylan said. "If the sheriff had followed the law there would have been no litigation."

County Counsel Anita Grant said the county has not identified yet how it will pay for the legal fees, which are not covered by the county's tort liability coverage.

Rivero, in an email, said he had not known about Tuesday's hearing and did not attend. Rivero said he believed the settlement agreement had no "prevailing party" and that the county should not pay the legal fees.

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