Shamrock Acres opponent successful in FOIA suit against IDOA
Oct. 6, Judge Patricia Walton of the 7th Judicial Circuit in McDonough County issued a written opinion in favor of the plaintiff, Industry resident Ramona Cook, in her lawsuit seeking documents the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) had withheld from her in response to her Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The withheld documents were construction plans for the Shamrock Acres hog factory confinement proposed one-half mile west of the Cook farm in Eldorado Township.
“I had wanted to review the plans before the public hearing on July 12,” said Cook. “Unfortunately, the Department filed a number of motions that took the last few months to litigate. That meant I was unable to review the documents until just recently. Now, I can have an expert review them to see if they meet the requirements of the law. That will help me protect my parents and our farm if there are problems with the plans. This is a real victory.”
Oct. 4, the Illinois Pork Producers and Shamrock Acres, LLC, had filed a petition to intervene in the lawsuit, arguing that protection of their rights to keep the documents from being produced might be inadequate. Judge Walton stated in her latest ruling that the petition was not made in a timely manner, since the complaint had been filed July 7, and there had already been four hearings on the matter.
“It seemed their petition was just one more attempt to delay things, and I’m glad they weren’t successful,” said Cook. “I think the legislature got it right when they wrote the FOIA, and it should be enforced.”
The Illinois FOIA states that all citizens have a right to gain access to documents in the possession of the government. The act itself states: “Such access is necessary to enable the people to fulfill their duties of discussing public issues fully and freely, making informed political judgments and monitoring government to ensure that it is being conducted in the public interest.”
According to Cook, “This case will have implications across the state of Illinois as citizens have consistently been denied access to vital information on livestock factory proposals in their communities. My hope is this will end IDOA’s practice of shielding such information from the public once and for all.”
Cook’s attorney, David Albee of Galena, was previously successful in a similar suit involving construction plans for a mega-dairy in Jo Daviess County. Judge Walton granted Cook her attorney fees and court costs.
For more information, contact: Ramona Cook, RRRA, email@example.com, 309-254-3228.
From the Oct. 19-25, 2011, issue
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