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Inglewood must pay $117,741 for 'meritless' lawsuit against critic, judge rules

Inglewood must pay $117,741 for 'meritless' lawsuit against critic, judge rules
A screenshot of a video created by Joseph Teixeira that samples snippets of the Inglewood City Council.

A federal judge Thursday ordered the city of Inglewood to pay the legal fees of a local resident whom the city unsuccessfully sued for using snippets of City Council meetings in YouTube videos that were critical of elected officials.

In a 12-page decision filed Thursday, federal Judge Michael Fitzgerald awarded $117,741 to the lawyers at Davis Wright Tremaine who represented Joseph Teixeira. The judge rejected Inglewood's argument that Teixeira's legal team was not entitled to recover legal costs because the lawyers took on the case pro bono and charged exorbitant fees.

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"The Court is ... persuaded that a fee award is necessary to deter future meritless litigations of this kind," Fitzgerald said in his decision.

Using a MacBook laptop, Teixeira created short videos that blasted Inglewood and its mayor, James T. Butts Jr. In March, the city of Inglewood filed a lawsuit against Teixeira, saying six of his online videos had caused the city "irreparable harm and damages."

The city sought unspecified "actual damages stemming from the defendant's unauthorized exploitation of the city's copyrighted videos," as well as legal fees, according to the lawsuit filed by Inglewood's attorney, JoAnna M. Esty.

In August, the judge ruled Teixeira did not violate the copyright of the council meeting. He noted that California law bars cities from claiming ownership of council videos.

Even if Inglewood could hold a copyright, the judge said, Teixeira would be allowed to use the videos under the law, which gives people a broad right to use copyrighted material without permission for purposes such as criticism, news reporting or teaching.

Thursday's decision concluded a highly unusual case that some legal experts -- as well as the judge -- called a blatant attempt to silence a political critic and a violation of his 1st Amendment rights.

"This lawsuit posed a serious threat to critical political expression," Fitzgerald said in his decision.

The city set aside $50,000 to pay its own legal costs to bring the lawsuit.

For more California breaking news, follow @AngelJennings.  She can also be reached at angel.jennings@latimes.com.

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