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Our View: The reach of the Freedom of Information Act

Published: Friday, June 13, 2014 11:21 p.m. CDT

The Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, does apply to State’s Attorney’s Offices – that’s according to a recent ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court.

The case, Nelson v. Kendall County, was decided in May, and Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon discussed the ramifications of the court’s decision during his monthly media meeting Tuesday.

“We are gearing up to prepare for those requests,” he said.

The outcome of the case is important. Journalists and Kane County citizens should take note. Before the ruling came down, the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office had contended that FOIA did not apply to it, although details on contracts and the office’s budget had been available to the community.

Since the decision, however, the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office has changed its position on the matter, with McMahon noting that his office will have to be more discerning when considering exemptions to FOIA requests in the future.

The written opinion of Nelson v. Kendall County states that, “The issue on this appeal is whether the office of the State’s Attorney of Kendall County is exempt from the disclosure requirements of the Freedom of Information Act on the grounds that the State’s Attorney’s Office is part of the judicial branch of Illinois government and therefore beyond the reach of the FOIA.”

It goes on to read that, “ ... At the time FOIA was enacted, as now, the case law consistently recognized that the office of the State’s Attorney was part of the executive branch of state government,” concluding that “ ... FOIA applies to the office of State’s Attorney.”

The purpose of FOIA is to make the workings of government, public officials and public employees more transparent.

Requiring State’s Attorney’s Offices in Illinois to comply with the act will further that mission.

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