Federal appellate judges in Chicago heard oral arguments Tuesday over whether records containing police misconduct and excessive force complaints should be released to the public.
A freelance journalist and 28 city aldermen want access to documents that name the 662 Chicago police officers with more than 10 complaints filed against them. U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow ordered the release of the sealed misconduct accusations last July, but the city appealed.
The case began when a woman with an excessive force claim against the police department was granted access to the documents, but they were never officially filed with the court. After the lawsuit was settled, journalist Jamie Kalven and the aldermen sought access to the files.
At issue in the case is whether documents that have not been officially filed in a court case can be considered public and made available to non-parties and the press.
Judge Diane Sykes, one member of the three-judge panel, said there is no precedent that grants the general public the right to access unfiled documents, which are considered discovery material but are not on the record.
The aldermen say that having the names of the 5 percent of the police force that attracts the most grievances would enable them to better evaluate complaints from constituents about particular officers.
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and City Corporation Counsel Mara Georges argued that releasing the names of the officers with the most complaints would unfairly invade their privacy and damage their reputations, claiming that the city investigated those complaints and most were determined to be unfounded.