City officials have yet to reach a decision on whether to appeal a court order to release individual employee bonus amounts, but the tab incurred by the Burbank Leader to obtain the information already stands at $37,000.
Pending the outcome of a possible appeal to the Los Angeles County Superior Court decision to side with the Leader in its public records lawsuit, Burbank will likely be forced to pay the newspaper’s legal bills.
Karlene Goller — an attorney for the Leader’s parent company, the Los Angeles Times, who helped handle the lawsuit — said other fees were still being tabulated, but her outside co-counsel of Karl Olson, of the San Francisco-based law firm Ram & Olson, said the tab would likely increase.
Under the California Public Records Act, the Leader is able to collect court costs and reasonable attorney fees after prevailing in court.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ann I. Jones on Friday ordered the city of Burbank to release bonus amounts paid to individual employees, saying the public’s right to know the information exceeded any workplace privacy concerns.
“In my opinion, it would be a waste of taxpayer money for the city to challenge Judge Jones’ well-crafted order, just as it was a waste of taxpayer money for Burbank to resist disclosure of bonuses when other cities have disclosed the same information, and the law sure is clear,” Olson said in an email.
The city initially provided only bonuses for fiscal year 2009-10 paid to each employee bargaining group that totaled $1 million out of a budgeted $1.87 million. They refused to turn over bonus payouts for each employee, arguing that making the information public would hurt workplace morale and invade their privacy.
The City Council could choose to appeal the ruling, although that discussion had yet to be scheduled as of Tuesday. An appeal would increase the fees owed by the city if the lower court’s decision is affirmed.
A decision by the council to file an appeal would be made in closed session, but it was not listed on Tuesday’s agenda.
City staff declined to comment on the initial fee estimates.
But Councilwoman Emily Gabbel-Luddy, reached after the court decision Friday, called the ruling predictable, saying “taxpayers should be able to see where the dollars are spent.”
And Councilman David Gordon said in an email that he questioned “whether it is in the city's best interest to pursue this decision, spending taxpayer money on litigation that may well be inappropriate and wasteful.”
He added: “There should be no expectation of a right to privacy of taxpayer money paid to public employees, regardless of how it may be labeled.”