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State’s attorneys now must release public records

Illinois Supreme Court overturns appellate decision

Published: Friday, May 23, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

Last year, Sauk Valley Media reported about a Sterling man who was unhappy with the Whiteside County state’s attorney’s office for plea-bargaining lesser charges against two men accused of beating him.

The state’s attorney’s office said it had several witnesses who claimed that the assault was not accurately represented by the victim.

But State’s Attorney Trish Joyce denied SVM’s Freedom of Information Act request for those witness statements. She cited an appellate court ruling that state’s attorney offices aren’t public bodies subject to the open information law.

Thursday, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed that ruling.

In a unanimous ruling, the state’s highest court declared state’s attorneys are subject to Illinois public-records law. That forces county prosecutors to release public records under the FOIA. The law is intended to improve government transparency.

The case began when a reporter asked for emails between employees in the Kendall County State’s Attorney’s office. The office denied the request, claiming it was part of the judicial branch of government, which is exempt from the act.

State’s attorneys prosecute crime but also act as lawyers for county boards, advising officials on zoning issues, contracts and more.

In addition to Joyce, Lee County State’s Attorney Anna Sacco-Miller and Ogle County top prosecutor Mike Rock were among those who no longer released records to requesters.

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