by Irvin Muchnick
The City of Fort Lauderdale has agreed to reimburse a Miami law firm $5,000 in fees and costs for its work on my behalf in the Florida public records law litigation over city documents pertaining to the misconduct of swimming coach Alex Pussieldi.
Last month a Broward County judge ordered Fort Lauderdale to remove two redactions from documents that had been released to me. This followed my lawsuit claiming that these and other redactions violated the law.
I was represented pro bono by associate Regan N. Kruse and partner Edward M. Mullins of Miami’s Astigarraga Davis. They took the case on referral from the Florida First Amendment Foundation.
The state statute provides for the public agency to pay the plaintiff’s attorney fees in successful litigation. Though not a sanction per se, this provision functions as an incentive to pro bono lawyers and as a form of penalty to the public agency.
One of the two redactions removed by Judge John B. Bowman added to the evidence of a cover-up by local swimming authorities, various local police agencies, Fort Lauderdale city officials, and USA Swimming of multiply sourced allegations that Pussieldi had a system of secreting videotaping swimmers living with him, inappropriately touched one of them, and maintained a collection of videos of his own sex with underage boys.
The Pussieldi revelations, which broke at this site in February and in the New Times weeklies of South Florida in June, became associated with a successful petition campaign by victims of coach sexual abuse to reverse the scheduled induction of USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. The Hall is located in the same Fort Lauderdale city-owned aquatics complex where Pussieldi physically assaulted a Mexican swimmer who blew the whistle on Pussieldi’s Peeping Tom video practices in 2004.
The conclusion of our public records dispute with Fort Lauderdale now also coincides with federal investigations of USA Swimming abuse and cover-up, which were spurred by Congressman George Miller of California, ranking minority member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.