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St. Petersburg, Times Publishing Co. negotiating end to legal challenge

ST. PETERSBURG — The city of St. Petersburg and Times Publishing Co. are negotiating an end to the newspaper's federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the city's ban on street solicitation.

Times Publishing Co., the parent company of the St. Petersburg Times, will drop its suit if the city agrees not to pursue legal fees, which the city attorney estimates to be in the "low" five figures for staff time and surveillance work.

In exchange, the Times would agree not to seek to overturn the ordinance in the future.

Times attorney George Rahdert said his office broached the idea with the city Tuesday. The deal could be finalized by today.

City Attorney John Wolfe said he briefed council members about the potential deal Tuesday. "We are certainly talking about it," he said. "I don't anticipate any objections."

The City Council unanimously passed the ban June 3 after neighborhood leaders said the measure was needed to fight an increase in street panhandling.

But in banning transactions between pedestrians and motorists, the ordinance also applies to charity fundraisers and vendors, including those hawking the St. Petersburg Times. Under the new ordinance, violators can be warned, then arrested.

Times Publishing Co. responded with a lawsuit saying that the ban violated the paper's constitutional right to free speech. The Times uses independent contractors to sell the newspaper. Until the ban, roughly 90 part-time workers sold about 7,000 newspapers in the city each Sunday.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara refused the company's request for a temporary restraining order to delay the ban until the legal challenge was resolved.

"After the judge's ruling last week, we examined all our options and decided against a legal challenge," said Times communications director Jounice Nealy-Brown. "We're still very concerned about the city ordinance but we had our day in court. We'll turn our efforts elsewhere."

Wolfe said he expects the council to favor the deal.

"I think we probably want it to go away," said City Council member Wengay Newton.

Wolfe said such an agreement doesn't need to go to the mayor or the council. The lawyers can draw it up and submit it to the judge for approval.

St. Petersburg, Times Publishing Co. negotiating end to legal challenge 06/15/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 15, 2010 10:36pm]
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