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February 23, 2024

Why we sue vs complain to the AG…

By John Kraft & Kirk Allen

On April 3, 2015

Edgar Co. (ECWd) –

The bottom line, to us, is access to public records, and all the public records we ask for, in a timely manner. Period.

So what does a person do when faced with public bodies that invent reasons to hide public records, provide only a portion of the records requested, or simply fail to answer a request for records?

One avenue of recourse is to file what is called a “Request for Review” with the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor’s Office. It doesn’t cost the individual citizen any money to go thru this process and let the AG’s office determine if a violation of the Freedom of Information Act has occurred. But as old sayings go, “nothing is free“, or, “you get what you pay for.”

The initial idea behind the Request for Review process was admirable in that it allowed a citizen to enforce his rights to public records without burdening the Court systems and without the added costs of an attorney or court costs and fees. The AG’s office has fallen so far behind on their determinations that this process is no longer a viable option for anyone who wants public records within any reasonable amount of time.

As a recent example, Kirk Allen, just this week received a determination made by the AG that he was improperly denied access to public records from the Illinois State Police. He requested those record in 2012 – no that is not a typo “2012“. There are others from 2012 and 2013 that have still not been determined. That is not the intent of the Freedom of Information Act and no person should have to wait 1, 2, 3, or more years to receive records they have a statutory right to have.

The second option is to file suit in Circuit Court and is generally the last option when all other options fail, or when a public body will not comply with the law. When this happens, the public body generally figures out they are wrong and provides the records to settle the case out of court, but in some instances they continue to fight to keep the records secret. This fight can go on for years and become quite expensive with the public body trying to convince people we are “costing them money” when the reality is the public body is costing their own taxpayers money by trying to keep public records from the public. The amount of time and money spent should indicate the level of fraud and abuse of taxpayer funds the public body is trying to keep secret.

For the most part, the process of court action provides access to public records in far shorter times than going thru the AG’s office.

That is why we use the court system instead of the AG’s system – both are authorized by FOIA, just that the courts are generally faster.

The same holds true for Open Meetings Act violations, generally by the time the AG makes a determination it is moot. We have several OMA complaints going back more than a year. Is that justice?





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1 Comment
  • Robert O. Bogue
    Posted at 18:55h, 03 April

    This response is In regards to your article and the comments on FOIA laws; and in particular OMA complaints.
    I filed a OMA complaint on or about December 10th, 2013 with the Public Access Counselor (believed to be under Lisa Madigan’s office). This complaint later became identified as case number 27233.
    It is now 16 months later, 16 long months……………. and after numerous e-mails and even telephone conversations with Matt Hartman, there is yet to be an official determination. I strongly suspect this is because the determination will not go in the county’s favor but who really knows why the delay?

    In this past week I also requested, via the FOIA process, any information regarding my OMA query in hopes I could find out who where the case is, who is not responding and why there has not been an answer in a timely fashion.

    This evening I received a partial answer in regards to what is now a three part FOIA request dated just a week ago. (More information is promised regarding other parts of my request in the near future).

    If I understand this partial response correctly, there are no policies, rules governing and procedures regarding the proper handling of OMA complaints sent to the public access counselor, to include any complaint processing timetables and processing conditions set forth by the Public Access Counselor. In other words, no records responsive to my request.
    So they’re not breaking any rules, laws, policies or guidelines by not ever responding.

    In relation to this Watchdog article………… Lisa Madigan, her office, her attorneys and a good deal of the state government we turn to in hopes of finding justice, well, they seem to have become enablers for those that need to be jailed. I say this based on their miserable performance in upholding citizens rights, their failure at processing complaints and in doing so in a timely fashion. Justice is not being served!

    At this juncture, it would be very difficult to guess how much money our Illinois Government has spent on these people. People that are not doing their job, that are dragging their feet and only trying to justify their existence because they have done nothing, of substance on this aged complaint. Apparently they believe they are manufacturers of fine bottled wine.

    We’ve reached the point where I’ve left instructions to them, in the event I die of old age before they offer a response to me; to provide the much anticipated response to my heirs. That could be as much as 20 years or more from now if I’m lucky.

    And from this experience I’ve learned 1) justice delayed is in fact, justice denied 2) it takes money and time to bring about justice in our state, which apparently, from this experience I can say may only happen in our court system 3) don’t waste your time with Lisa Madigan, her office or her staff of government employees: all apparently in desperate need of dismissal and certainly not worth what they are being paid to do and 4) save your money and spend it in our court system… seems to be a lot faster…and perhaps more reliable.