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Ruling: Multiple Factors Count In Paying Records Case Costs

A new court ruling says reimbursement of attorney fees and costs of litigants who come out ahead in legal fights over release of public records isn't determined solely by what the records they receive.

The  Arizona Supreme Court ruled Wednesdaythat trial judges have broad discretion to consider other factors when deciding whether to order reimbursement allowed under state law if a requester “substantially prevails" in court.

The opinion authored by Justice James Beene said trial judges also should consider factors such as whether a case's outcome set a legal precedent or defeated the government's denial of access to public records.

“Securing a legal precedent may well be as important, if not more so, than the desired documents," Beene wrote. “Likewise, forcing compliance by a recalcitrant government entity should factor into whether a party substantially prevailed even if it does not yield a document bounty."

The decision stemmed from a fight between the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and the Arizona Department of Child Safety over records on child welfare services.

The case now goes back to trial court to consider whether the ACLU should get be reimbursed under the Supreme Court's new guidance.

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Jill Ryan joined KJZZ in 2020 as a morning reporter, and she is currently a field correspondent and Morning Edition producer.