State Supreme Court decision enhances transparency in government

Online Staff Report

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois Press Association (IPA) applauded the Illinois Supreme Court’s unanimous decision May 23 in Nelson v. Kendall County, which will significantly increase transparency in Illinois government.

The ruling, which the court issued this morning, concluded that state’s attorneys’ offices, as part of the executive branch of state government, are subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and must make their public records available for public review.

Justice Lloyd Karmeier wrote the court’s opinion, with Chief Justice Rita Garman and Justice Charles Freeman, Robert Thomas, Thomas Kilbride, Anne Burke and Mary Jane Theis joining. The court reversed the decision of the appellate court, which held that state’s attorneys’ offices are part of the judicial branch and, as such, are not covered by FOIA. The Supreme Court remanded the case for further proceedings in circuit court.

Dennis DeRossett, executive director of the IPA, noted the Supreme Court decision is, in fact, consistent with what most news outlets thought the law was all along. “Newspapers have traditionally obtained records from the states’ attorneys across the state, often by way of FOIA requests,” DeRossett said. “Even at the time the Kendall County State’s Attorney took the legal position that he was not subject to the act, he identified a FOIA officer on his website. We are grateful that the Supreme Court has clearly stated the law, requiring state’s attorneys to respond to FOIA requests.”

Dennis Lyle, executive director of the Illinois Broadcasters’ Association, joined DeRossett in praising the court’s decision. “The IBA was very pleased to support one of our members, the Plaintiff, Larry Nelson, in this case,” Lyle said. “Larry is to be commended for his efforts to maintain access to public records via FOIA requests. This particular request obviously took a long and winding road, by Larry never wavered from his principles.”

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D), whose office submitted an amicus brief in support of the plaintiff seeking records from the Kendall County State’s Attorney, said: “This ruling is a significant victory in our ongoing efforts to raise the bar on transparency in Illinois government. The court reiterated that the Freedom of Information Act was intended to ensure that taxpayers are entitled to full and complete information about the work of the government officials acting on their behalf.”

Posted May 23, 2014

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