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Monday, December 16, 2013

State's Attorney's Office is Exempt from FOIA

In Uphoff v. Grosskopf, an Illinois Appellate Court recently overturned the Illinois Attorney General's Public Access Counselor's ruling that the Livingston County State's Attorney was subject to FOIA.
In 2010, Grosskopf filed a FOIA request with the Livingston County State's Attorney requesting documents relating to a 2011 murder trial. The SA denied the request, and Grosskopf appealed to the PAC.  The PAC ruled that the SA was required to turn over the requested documents, subject to permissible redactions.  The County filed a complaint with the circuit court seeking a determination as to whether the SA's office was a "public body" under FOIA. Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a motion to dismiss the County's complaint, arguing that because the PAC's letter was nonbinding and nonreviewable, it could not form the basis of an actual legal controversy.  In other words, the head of the PAC (Madigan) argued that her office's own ruling was not binding.  The circuit court agreed, and dismissed the County's case.
On appeal to the 4th Circuit Appellate Court, the County argued that the SA's office is not a public body because it is part of the judicial branch of state government and, therefore, exempt from FOIA. The appellate court agreed, citing a 2nd Circuit Appellate Court case Nelson v. County of Kendall.   In Nelson, the appellate court determined that a SA's office is exempt from FOIA because it is established in the judicial article of the Illinois Constitution. 
The 4th Circuit court agreed with the holding of Nelson, but relied on a relatively recent law to support its ruling.  Specifically, in 2010, the State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor's Act (SAAP Act) was amended to expressly state that the State's Attorney's office is a "judicial agency of state government." The 4th Circuit determined that this particular amendment was specifically enacted to provide a FOIA exemption for SA's offices. Thus, although the SA's office is not part of the judicial branch of government, it is a "judicial agency" for purposes of FOIA.
In its conclusion, the court notes that the legislature took "a rather oblique path" to exempt State's Attorneys from FOIA, and encourages the General Assembly to be clearer in future legislative enactments.
Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink


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