Three newspapers in Florida have won $105,000 in attorney fees from the federal government after a successful Freedom of Information Act fight to obtain public records from the Department of Homeland Security. Holland & Knight partner Charles "Chuck" Tobin, who chairs the firm's national media practice team in the D.C. office, represented the papers and called the court ruling "an outstanding result," The News-Press reported.
The News-Press, the Pensacola News Journal, and Florida Today sued the Department of Homeland Security after it blocked the release of details about the 1.1 million recipients of $1.2 billion in disaster aid after four hurricanes ravaged Florida in 2004. The newspapers lost in a lower court but prevailed before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in obtaining the release of the aid recipients' addresses and payment of attorney fees incurred in the court battle.
Tobin, whose undergraduate degree was in journalism, was a reporter for The News-Press in Fort Myers before he graduated with honors from the University of Florida College of Law. Before joining Holland & Knight, he spent eight years as in-house counsel for Gannett Co., Inc., which owns the three newspapers that filed the FOIA suit.
"After years of withholding records, the government has agreed to pay six figures. The amount speaks for itself," Tobin said. "It's a victory for the First Amendment."