City of Bloomington accused of violating FOIA

The downstate city of Bloomington is facing a lawsuit over alleged violations of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

FOIA is a transparency law that’s intended to give citizens insights and data about their government and allow them to access important relevant documents and records from any federal agency.

Matthew Topic, the attorney from Loevy & Loevy representing plaintiffs Tammy Alexander and Raymond Wilson in the case, said the lawsuit, filed on Sept 30, arose because the city allegedly is withholding nonexempt public records regarding a murder case.

“It stems back to the conviction of a man named Jamie Snow for murder quite a number of years ago,” Topic said. “There have been several advocates who have been working very hard to try to get information about that investigation and uncover evidence that might show that Mr. Snow was wrongfully convicted.”

Jamie Snow was convicted of murder in 2001 and given a life sentence in the death of a gas station attendant 10 years earlier.

While some files were released, Topic alleged that there are still significant records that the city is refusing to release.

“One category that is of interest is things like witness interviews — recordings or transcriptions of people who have been interviewed in the course of the investigation,” Topic said. “They are largely refusing to release that information.”

The city said it does not have the capability to redact audio portions from a cassette tape and convert it for modern usage. Topic said that with today’s technology, it should be reasonably simple to do the conversion, especially given the nature of the case.

Topic said the costs of the case depend on how hard the city wants to fight.

“If the public body elects to resolve the case early, the cost is pretty modest,” Topic said. “The attorney fees to the requestor aren’t very high. They may not even need their own attorney to pay for the attorney fees on their side. So if a public body reconsiders early in a case and produces the records, the cost is very modest.”

The FOIA statute allows the requestor(s) to sue for attorney fees and, if necessary, damages.

Topic said that if the city decides to fight, the costs of the suit may reach into the tens of thousands of dollars. Topic said the city may pay these costs through insurance, internal lawyers or from their operation revenue.

Regardless of how long the city fights, Topic said he feels good about the case.

“I would say that the appellate court in the state has been pretty strict and demanding on public bodies who attempt to withhold public records, especially records from old police investigations,” Topic said. “The public courts have been pretty skeptical of claims that that kind of information can’t be released. We feel good about the outcome of the case.”

–Illinois News Network

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