A panel of three appeals court judges has upheld an order requiring the City of Coral Gables to pay New Times $35,210 in attorney's fees.
Last Tuesday's decision by Florida's Third District Court of Appeal brings to $132,152 the amount of taxpayers' money Coral Gables has spent so far trying to outlaw New Times's brightly colored newspaper boxes within its boundaries -- enough to buy every man, woman, and child in the Gables a McDonald's Big Mac, French fries, and a Coke, or a matinee visit to the Miracle Theater cinema on Miracle Mile.
Gables code enforcement officers kidnapped seven New Times newspaper boxes on March 13, 1991, saying the red-and-white distribution bins violated a beautification ordinance that calls for all news racks to be painted beige and brown with lettering no taller than a matchbook. The seizure took place the day after New Times published an article about nitpicking Coral Gables bureaucrats and their bungled efforts to build a wall around a municipal golf course.
On March 31 of this year, city commissioners modified their three-year-old news rack ordinance to allow for boxes that accommodate tabloid-size newspapers, but they stopped short of dropping the bright-color ban. They acknowledged that a lawsuit brought by New Times in state court forced the change, whereupon Circuit Court Judge Harold Solomon ordered the city to pay New Times's legal fees. The city has also made a series of payments totaling $96,943 to the law firm George Hartz Lundeen Flagg & Fulmer to defend it against the lawsuit.
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Coral Gables is also being sued in federal court by the Spanish-English weekly Exito!. The Miami tabloid says Coral Gables's prohibition of its distinctive deep-purple-and-lime-green news racks violates the First and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Lanham Act, a federal law that protects free trade and guarantees trademark rights.
Trial is set for late April but could be a foregone conclusion. In a temporary injunction issued July 10, U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno calls the city's microregulation of newspaper boxes unconstitutional. Joanne Fanizza, a lawyer for Exito!, predicts that the City Beautiful will lose its case in federal court and be liable for further legal fees, which she characterizes as "a pretty good little bit."
"They're in deep doo-doo right now," notes New Times attorney Sanford Bohrer, referring to Gables officials. "Their legal fees are mounting horrendously. At some point you've got to know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. The time has come for the city to fold 'em."
Coral Gables City Attorney Robert Zahner did not return phone calls.