10:00 PM PDT on Thursday, September 29, 2011

BY DAVID DANELSKI
STAFF WRITER
ddanelski@pe.com

A judge ruled Thursday that the San Bernardino County Employees Retirement Association must reimburse The Press-Enterprise for attorney fees incurred during a dispute over public pension records the agency sought to withhold.

San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge John Vander Feer ordered the association to pay the newspaper $59,888, the entire amount requested, said Alonzo Wickers IV, the newspaper’s attorney.

Association attorney Christopher Lockwood declined to comment when contacted by telephone. In court papers, he described the newspaper’s attorney fees as excessive.

“Counsel treated this case as a blank check to bill anything whatsoever, and The Press-Enterprise itself rubberstamped the bills in anticipation of getting everything back that it paid,” Lockwood wrote.

In issuing his decision Thursday, Vander Feer found reasonable both the scope of the legal work and the fees charged in the newspaper’s yearlong effort to obtain pension information for former public employees, Wickers said.

Maria De Varenne, the newspaper’s editor and vice president for news, said The Press-Enterprise’s request for pension information was in keeping with the newspaper’s long history of fighting for public access to information held by government agencies.

The retirement agency and its attorney chose to fight the request through protracted legal maneuvers and delays, she said.

To read entire story, click here.