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City of Chicago settles lawsuit with pledge to follow FOI Act

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City of Chicago settles lawsuit with pledge to follow FOI Act

  • The Chicago Tribune a received requested documents as part of the settlement ending a two-year lawsuit against the city over its handling of FOI requests.

April 11, 2003 — After years of denials and delayed responses, the Chicago Tribune sued the city of Chicago for its pattern of behavior regarding document requests, charging that it routinely violated the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

The two entities reached a settlement in late March in which the city produced documents requested by the newspaper and pledged to abide by state FOI Act requirements in the future.

“That’s what led to the lawsuit — continued frustration. They effectively used this method to squash stories and steer the news,” said Tribune staff writer Andrew Martin, currently a Nieman fellow at Harvard University.

Martin, who worked in Florida prior to coming to the Tribune, noted a significant difference between the two states. His FOI Act requests in Florida were handled more quickly in an environment of openness and good public records laws — a contrast to his experiences in Illinois.

“The law is so vague in Illinois. Unless you go to court, there’s just no teeth,” Martin said.

As part of its settlement with the Tribune , the city acknowledged its obligation to honor the time limits for responding to FOI Act requests. Under Illinois law, an agency must respond within seven working days of receiving a records request.

“The city of Chicago was blowing the time deadline,” said Paulette Dodson, assistant general counsel in publishing for the Tribune Company.

In its defense, the city claimed that some of the FOI Act requests had been too vague, and did not admit guilt as part of the settlement.

Dodson disagreed with the characterization that some of the requests are vague.

“The city always has the option to call up and ask the reporter to make the request more limited,” Dodson said.

The city also plans, independent of the lawsuit settlement, to add to its Web site a list of which departments to contact for document requests as well as names of FOI officers in each department.

The newspaper’s lawsuit, originally filed in December 2000, listed more than 14 document requests submitted to the city between 1999 and 2001. The city has promised more documents in addition to those already disclosed.

(Chicago Tribune v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago; Media counsel: Paulette Dodson, Tribune Company, Chicago, Ill.) KD


© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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