4th District Court of Appeals Rules for the BGA in FOIA Case
Court upholds ruling that Blagojevich must disclose subpoenas
November 20, 2008,
Springfield, Illinois - The Better Government Association (“BGA”) is thrilled that the 4th District Court of Appeals has upheld the public’s right to know. Today, the court ruled that the BGA is entitled to federal grand jury subpoenas that have been served upon the Blagojevich administration. The BGA first requested these documents in July 2006. After repeated denials for the information, in January 2007, the BGA sued Governor Blagojevich under Illinois’ Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”).
The BGA started this litigation for two primary reasons:
We believe the public has the right to know what is going on with its government. Public officials overwhelm us with press releases and news conferences to extol their victories, but seek to limit and control information when things go wrong. As the public pays for both the good and the bad, we feel the public should have a clear idea of what is happening at the highest levels of state government.
We believe that the law applies to everyone, even the Governor of Illinois. He has public records relating to a very important issue, namely that his office has been served federal grand jury subpoenas. Anyone with a passing knowledge of Illinois recent history knows this is a disturbing development. However, rather than ignore this unpleasant issue, it should be aired to the fullest extent possible. Simply being Governor does not mean public records laws don’t apply to you or your office.
During the entire course of the trial and the appeal, Blagojevich’s lawyers have argued that federal law bars the Governor from releasing the subpoenas, despite their inability to point to any specific language prohibiting such disclosure. Further, they admitted in court that Governor Blagojevich couldn’t be punished under any law if he did, in fact, disclose the subpoenas.
Unsurprisingly, the Governor has now added a loss at the appellate level to go with his loss at the trial level.
At this stage the BGA sincerely hopes that Governor will stop spending taxpayer dollars on his private attorneys and comply with the court’s decision and hand over the subpoenas. Clearly, the public is well aware that the Governor’s administration is under federal investigation. To continue spending tens of thousands of dollars on attorneys fees in a losing battle doesn’t serve the public well and does nothing to bolster the Governor’s already battered reputation.
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