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Judge Awards Banner Over $67,000 After Newspaper Wins Steinwachs Case
April 4, 2007 - A Henry County judge ruled last week that the town of Knightstown and its insurer must pay more than $67,000 to cover attorney fees and other expenses The Banner incurred mounting a successful legal challenge to the town's and insurer's denials of the newspaper's requests for a copy of the settlement agreement that ended a former police dispatcher's civil rights lawsuit against the town and the Knightstown Police Department in 2003.
In an order issued March 29, Henry County Judge Mary Willis ruled that Knightstown and its insurer, Governmental Interinsurance Exchange-Government Insurance Managers, owe The Banner $67,612.46 for attorney fees, court costs and litigation expenses. With the Indiana Court of Appeals ruling unanimously in favor of the newspaper in December 2005, Willis said The Banner substantially prevailed in its case against the town and insurer and was entitled to recover this amount under the state's Access to Public Records Act.
The amount Willis awarded to The Banner was substantially less than had been requested. In a fee petition filed in December, Banner attorney Kurt Webber urged the court to award $125,397.09, plus an additional 50-percent increase - a "risk multiplier" - due to the complexity and importance of the case with respect to public access issues, and due to the personal financial risk he faced in taking the case as a solo practitioner squaring off against up to nine attorneys representing the town and its insurer. Willis said Webber was not entitled to the risk multiplier and further reduced his initial fee request of $125,397.09 by 46 percent. She said the reduction accounted for unsuccessful claims pursued by The Banner, unintelligible time entries on Webber's billing statements, and other work on the case she did not find to be reasonable.
The town's insurer, GIE/GIM, had also asked Willis to order The Banner to pay it $111,324.20 in attorney fees, court costs and expenses. Willis rejected this request and said GIE/GIM had not substantially prevailed against The Banner and that the newspaper's public access lawsuit had been frivolous and vexatious, as the insurer had alleged.
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