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City must pay legal fees to local media, judge rules

The city of Asheville must pay nearly $4,200 in legal fees to a coalition of local media organizations that sued the city for trying to bar news reporters from a public meeting in March. The coalition, including Asheville Watchdog, The Asheville Citizen Times, Mountain Xpress, Blue Ridge Public Radio, and Carolina Public Press, successfully sued the city, citing North Carolina’s open meetings law, and on Tuesday Buncombe County Superior Court Judge Steven Warren ruled that the city must pay the coalition’s legal fees.

“We are grateful that Judge Warren apparently agreed that it was important not only for the city of Asheville to comply with the open meetings law but to be accountable when they tried to sidestep it,” said Amanda Warren, the lawyer who represented the local media coalition. “A different ruling could have encouraged public bodies and public agencies to flout the law with little consequence.”

Brad R. Branham, Asheville’s city attorney, told Mountain Xpress that he disagreed with Judge Warren’s rulings and that “it is difficult to say that this particular ruling would have any bearing on Council meetings moving forward.” He declined to say how much the city spent on its legal defense.

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