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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

PAC Issues 2nd Opinion of 2014

In an opinion that shouldn't surprise anyone (and not just because the PAC ruled against the public body), the PAC found a public body in violation of FOIA for denying a request for legal invoices. PAC Op. 14-002.  The News-Gazette had requested copies of payments to and invoices from a law firm that had provided legal services to the City of Urbana.  The City denied the request, asserting a number of exemptions, including that the information was protected as an attorney-client communication and that the records related to collective bargaining matters. 

The PAC reviewed the request, appeal, and the billing records and concluded that the City violated FOIA by denying the request in its entirety. The PAC first stated that the dates on which legal services were performed, the initials of the attorney performing the work, the number of hours billed, and the corresponding amount billed for each entry did not reveal any privileged attorney-client communication and was not, therefore, exempt under FOIA.  The PAC did, however, acknowledge that information contained in the billing descriptions or explanation of the work being performed could be exempt as an attorney-client communication under the Illinois appellate court reasoning in Ulrich v. Stukel, 294 Ill.App.3d 193 (1997), except for general descriptions that do not reveal any privileged information (i.e., holding a telephone conference, exchanging emails, or drafting and revising a memo).

This opinion is consistent with a previous opinion issued by the PAC in 2012 that interpreted (and some would argue extended) the Ulrich holding to require a public body to conduct a line-by-line analysis of their attorney invoices before releasing them in order to redact any privileged information and release the remainder.

Hopefully, we will see future PAC opinions that actually provide guidance on some of the unanswered questions about FOIA compliance, rather than continue to see "repeats" of the same analysis and decisions.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink


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