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City of Bend to drop lawsuit against C.O. Peacekeepers over public records fees, pay $18K in court costs

KTVZ file

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The city of Bend has agreed to drop its lawsuit against the Central Oregon Peacekeepers group over a $3,600 fee charged for a public records request, and to pay $18,000 in attorney fees, saying a recent ruling by Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel that the city's fee structure is legal was a key goal of the legal action.

The Peacekeepers group and the ACLU of Oregon, which stepped in to defend the Peacekeepers and member Michael Satcher, called Tuesday's joint motion for dismissal of the year-old lawsuit, originally set to go to trial late last year, "a victory for free speech and for accountability of public officials."

Here's the ACLU's and Peacekeepers' news release, in full, followed by a city spokeswoman's statement:

Victory! City of Bend Dismisses Lawsuit Against Central Oregon Peacekeepers, Agrees to Pay Fees

 Today, the City of Bend, the Central Oregon Peacekeepers, and a member of the Peacekeepers, Michael Satcher, filed a motion in the Deschutes County Circuit Court agreeing to dismiss all claims in an ongoing lawsuit. 

As part of the dismissal, the City of Bend has agreed to pay the Peacekeepers’ and Satcher’s attorney fees and costs. The motion, if accepted by the court, would bring an end to the City’s attempt to recover some $3,600 from Satcher for the purported cost of fulfilling his public records request on behalf of the Peacekeepers. 

The Peacekeepers’ original request sought information about the Bend Police Department’s response to 2020 racial justice protests in the city. After receiving the City’s fee estimate, Satcher appealed to the Deschutes County District Attorney, who determined that the requested records were important to the public’s interest and ordered the City to waive all fees for producing them to Satcher and the Peacekeepers. While the City produced the records following the DA’s decision, it filed a lawsuit against Satcher to recover the fees.

ACLU of Oregon, with cooperating attorneys Rian Peck and Alan Kessler, stepped in to defend Satcher from the suit. The Peacekeepers also joined the lawsuit and filed a counterclaim against the City seeking an order declaring the City’s fee estimate to be excessive and the City’s denial of the requested fee waiver unreasonable. 

The Central Oregon Peacekeepers:
"We would like to thank our lawyers Rian and Alan, and the ACLU of Oregon for believing in us and for their hard work on this case. They fought for us as independent journalists, and as everyday citizens concerned about government transparency. This is a victory for free speech and for accountability of public officials. 

The City fought hard to stop our record request. First with stalling tactics, then with fees. When both of those tactics failed, they took us to court to try and intimidate us. But we got the records and we learned a lot. We learned that Bend PD potentially spent more resources looking for the City Attorney's stolen bicycle than they did investigating a BIPOC individual getting beaten nearly to death. We learned that the Chief of Police lied about ordering the SWAT team to respond to a peaceful protest. We learned that the same Chief assigned a Bend Police officer to spend her work hours monitoring local activists. We learned that the City of Bend ran criminal background checks on people simply for attending protest events. 

The City of Bend was explicit in saying they took us to court to discourage requests like this in the future. They spent an enormous amount of money trying to bully us into giving up. We are thrilled that they were not allowed to prevail. In the future, we hope the City decides to spend taxpayer dollars helping people, instead of spending to silence them."

Rian Peck of Visible Law and Vice Chair of the ACLU of Oregon Lawyers Committee:
“Congratulations to the Central Oregon Peacekeepers for their hard-earned success in resolving this dispute with the City of Bend. Oregon’s Public Records Act guarantees that all people have the right to access public records in Oregon, but public bodies often thwart that guarantee by charging arbitrary and excessive fees for producing the records, and then by playing favoritism when deciding whether a requester is entitled to have those arbitrary and excessive fees waived (or not). The Peacekeepers’ willingness to advocate for equitable access to public records is an important precedent that will help us keep whittling away at public bodies’ efforts to keep public records secret.”

About The Central Oregon Peacekeepers:
The Peacekeepers are dedicated to the safety of the Central Oregon activist community. We organize safety volunteers, identify violent counter-protesters, and research public figures. If you believe in justice, equity, and inclusion, we're here for you.

About The ACLU of Oregon:
The ACLU of Oregon is an affiliate of the national ACLU which has affiliates in 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. The ACLU of Oregon is a nonpartisan, nonprofit membership organization with more than 28,000 members statewide. The organization works in the courts, in the state legislature and local governments, and in communities to defend and advance our civil liberties and civil rights under the U.S. and Oregon constitutions and the laws of the United States and Oregon. 


Statement to NewsChannel 21 from city of Bend Communications Director Anne Aurand:

 I wanted to make sure you understood that the City immediately released the requested records. This was thousands of pages. The City did not withhold any records pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

Second, for the City, the case was about the District Attorney’s incorrect legal analysis related to fees. It was not about the requestor.

The City agreed to settle this case because the District Attorney recently acknowledged the City’s public records fee structure is authorized by Oregon law. Whether the City’s fee structure is legally valid was one of the primary questions the City was seeking to answer by filing suit. 

The City made the decision to settle the case knowing it would mean the defendants’ attorneys would be entitled to fees for the legal work they had done to respond to the suit.

While an attorney fee payment of $18,000 is not insignificant, it is likely much less than what it would have cost the City if the City continued to pursue the lawsuit on the merits. With a major issue in the litigation resolved, the City decided staff and attorney time were better spent on other matters.

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Comments

28 Comments

  1. This is total BS. So none of us have to pay then correct?? Or is this strictly Hummel and the city bending over again to the problem children of the area.

    1. – what are you saying? – do you approve of public information only being available to wealthy people? – yea it is our government (serving us, not ruling us) so therefore none of us should have to pay for public information about our government – standing up for your rights doesn’t include ripping on other people who do, whether you like “them” or not

  2. Apply this logic to Kovid Kate’s illegal Executive Orders to shutdown our state economy- lockdown our schools- and meltdown our social structure for two years… “Whether the City’s fee structure is legally valid was one of the primary questions the City was seeking to answer” ! Time for the Oregon ACLU to file class action against the Governor for her heavy handed dictatorship from March of 2020. I could use a little extra cash- courtesy of the Demokants in Salem- just before I do my part to boot them from office.

    1. All hat and no cattle. Get your ass out there and get to work. Quit blaming other people for your problems. VFW. St Vincent. Reach out the homeless. Do your part, get out there and help your community. Quit being a partisan *****ole and put in the work. Come back and tell how you helped.

      1. What do expect from RWNJ grievance monkeys? They like to cry and whinge but have no solutions other than a Christo-fascist authoritarian state where failed businessesmen and reality tv show grifters run things and the rest of society fight over the crumbs.

        1. Under the current rule of Salem Demokant’s- “Experts have graded all things ‘Kovid Kate” a solid “D” for her performance battling a mild virus- Florida got sparkling numbers ! On top of that- when given the opportunity to Grade Brown’s handling of schools and education- she out did herself- with the citizens of Oregon giving her a damn near dead last grade nationwide ! Your monkeyshines reek of ignorance and lack empathy for the million kids in Oregon who suffered terribly under Brown- all you got is name-calling and selective outrage over successful businessmen ? You need not worry- Joey and Hunter are at the helm- their hands in your bank account- they’ll get them bad ol grifters and Christo-fascists ! Bwahahaaaa !!!

        2. I wouldn’t exactly call a multi billionaire a failed businessman. Lets look into the laptop some more. Oh wait. That’s being done as we speak. Some pretty damning evidence is being brought out of it. Oh! And then there’s the Durham investigation that is proving they made up everything. “User created” I believe is what they are saying. Indictment after indictment. Wait for it. It’s all coming soon.

      2. Thank you. I am sick of these snowflakes melting down every time they don’t get their way. Complaining on message boards seems to be they way they want to lead today!?!? If you have a problem, go try and fix it instead of just complaining and hoping some quack will get elected and lower your taxes. Small minds fit nicely under the MAGA hats.

      3. 19BLME ??? All mouth no brain ! How does what I posted have anything to do with Kalamity Kate’s 2 year Dictatorship ? You have no idea how many of the volunteer activities I participate in were financially ruined- shutdown- locked down for two years under Brown… Soooo- shut yer yap- no need for dimwits like you to set up shop with your stoopidity (sic) around here.

      1. Sorry you can’t/won’t see the connection to how various levels of liberal government pretty much work the same- “strike first- pick up the pieces later”. The City of Bend is a liberal nightmare who just got a touch of reality Will Smith style- give it a try- civil liberties are a wonderful thing !

  3. From another perspective –

    The “peacekeepers” were protected by the outgoing district attorney who allied himself with them for his own political purposes.

    Unfortunately for Mr. Hummel the “peacekeepers”, when they rampaged through Central Oregon Daily News’ offices in Bend, and then physically and verbally went after one of the CODN film teams outside the Deschutes County Courthouse, compromised him in his quest to become the U.S. Attorney in Oregon. How? He praised them in public just hours before the two incidents took place.

    https://centraloregondaily.com/calm-in-the-courtroom-chaos-outside/

    Local citizen feedback to the influential political entities overseeing that process, as invited by the committee, was not helpful for Mr. Hummel and he lost his bid to move “upward and onward”.

    Once the outgoing DA felt that sting he stepped away from the “peacekeepers” and when that happened they essentially disappeared from the public view / coverage in Bend.

    As the majority of those on the Bend City council have, in the past aligned themselves with the “peacekeepers” either quietly or openly, it is no surprise the lawsuit will be resolved as described. But, $18,000 plus the forgiven fee is a small price to pay to see a new DA take over the office this November.

    Thank you, “peacekeepers” – job well done.

        1. Exactly. Let’s just blow our cash on frivolous lawsuits that have no merit, and enact fascist policies to accessing public information behind the scenes while all that is going on. Next up, the ACLU goes after Hummel over these new “administrative fees” and we get to pay for him to get his you-know-what handed to him in court…again. This current city and county administration seems to enjoy wasting its time and our resources on side shows. But hey, I imagine it scores them points from the Northwest Crossing flock.

  4. I think an article could come out “Man bites dog” and half of you would somehow blame the Governor or President Trump and the other half would blame the dog. It is truly unfortunate that we find ourselves in this gloomy place.

    1. I mean, the merits of this really are the epitome of government overreach and suppression of information. Doesn’t that freak you out just a little?

  5. So they dropped the lawsuit because Hummel instituted a fee for public records requests – am I getting that right? Not trying to go all nut job here, but aren’t prohibitive fees to access public records against the spirit of FOIA and the first amendment? Can’t say I align with the Peacekeepers, but glad they got the W here. And it’s somewhat ironic that they get called fascists by local government officials who are clearly trying to suppress information vis frivolous lawsuits and financial barriers to public records requests.

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