ATLANTA A federal judge has issued a split decision of sorts in a feud between Atlanta and three major newspapers over fees the city-run airport charges for news racks.
The case involves a 1996 decision by the city to adopt a policy at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to remove all boxes that newspapers had placed there, and then lease publishers city-owned boxes.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, USA TODAY and The New York Times sued on First Amendment grounds. A federal judge issued an injunction blocking the policy, but an appeals court overturned a part of that decision and kicked the case back to the lower court to allow the city to present an acceptable plan for news racks at the airport.
In a ruling issued Dec. 2, U.S. District Judge Richard W. Story ordered the three newspapers to pay the city nearly $350,000 in back rent and interest for news racks. However, he also ordered the city to pay the three newspapers $1.35 million in attorney’s fees and expenses.
Unless the city appeals, the 8-year-old case will be over, said Eric Schroeder, a lawyer for USA TODAY.
“Yes, it’s a split decision, but the publishers got more money than expected and the city got less money than expected,” Schroeder said yesterday.
City Attorney Linda DiSantis said no decision had been made on whether to appeal. She said she had received Story’s ruling on Dec. 6 and had not had a chance to discuss it with airport officials.
The order says The Atlanta Journal-Constitution must pay $240,072.60, The New York Times must pay $18,771.60 and USA TODAY must pay $90,801.39. The judge ordered the city to pay The Atlanta Journal-Constitution $678,487.80, The New York Times $16,200.28 and USA TODAY $659,016.38.
Schroeder said that under a new policy, the city is allowed to charge newspapers a reasonable fee for the right to put news racks at the airport but can’t force the newspapers to put advertising for other companies on its news racks. The city also has to follow standards for granting and canceling permits, he said.