Fullerton to pay $350K to settle lawsuit against bloggers, take back criminal hacking accusations

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Fullerton city hall seen in an undated photo posted to the city's Facebook page.

Fullerton city hall seen in an undated photo posted to the city’s Facebook page.

The Southern California city of Fullerton has agreed to pay $350,000 and take back its accusations of criminal computer hacking to settle a lawsuit against two local bloggers, a newspaper reported.

The agreement was approved by the City Council last Wednesday, ending a contentious fight over censorship and freedom of speech, the Orange County Register said.

The lawsuit accused Joshua Ferguson and David Curlee from the website Friends for Fullerton’s Future of stealing digital personnel files from a shared drive to which the city had mistakenly given them access. Some of the files were later published online, including those of a rogue Fullerton police official who was allowed to resign in a way that would keep her records from being released to the public.

Attorney Kelly Aviles, representing the bloggers, said she was pleased with the settlement, but the litigation could have been avoided.

“The city shouldn’t have tried to blame their mistakes on journalists trying to cover the city,” Aviles said.

Fullerton’s attorney, Kimberly Hall Barlow, said the city acted in good faith when it filed its lawsuit in 2019.

“I’m glad we’re getting our documents back,” Barlow said. “That was the entire goal of the litigation.”

Under the terms of the deal, the city must publish a public apology on the home page of its website, Aviles said. While no formal charges were brought against the bloggers, the city’s accusations of criminal conduct were traumatic to them, she said.

In turn, the bloggers must return the remaining confidential records, which they don’t plan on publishing anyway, Aviles said.

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