ILLINOIS — If the Wayne County clerk denies a newspaper’s request to see marriage license applications, it must prove that they are exempt from the state’s Freedom of Information Act, the appellate court in Mount Vernon ruled in mid-June.
The court reversed an August 1993 trial court decision that said the Wayne County Press had to prove the license applications were not exempt before it could see them.
The newspaper requested the records in September 1991 for its regular list of marriage license applicants. The piece listed the names, addresses and ages of people applying for the licenses.
The Wayne County clerk stopped access to the records when an older couple asked the clerk to keep their ages out of the paper, said Tom Mathews Jr., publisher of the Wayne County Press.
The newspaper sued the county clerk in January 1993 to get access to the license applications.
The appellate court sent the case back to the trial court for reconsideration.
“There can be no question that the public body attempting to prevent disclosure, rather than the party seeking disclosure, bears the burden of proving that the requested information is exempt from disclosure,” the appellate court said.
The appellate court refused to consider whether the trial court improperly denied the newspaper’s request for attorney’s fees. The appellate court said it was unnecessary to consider the fees issue because the case was sent back to the trial court.
(Wayne County Press v. Isle; Media Counsel: Don Craven, Springfield)
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.