Notable Past and Current Cases
Center for Open Government
Tomasik v. Village of Thornton — Center successfully settles a public records (FOIA) lawsuit and forces a local public body to disclose financial records to Village trustee.
In July 2010, attorneys for the Center for Open Government filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court against the Village of Thornton on behalf of village trustee Paul Tomasik. The lawsuit alleges that the village violated the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) when it failed to disclose specific information related to emergency medical service billings in the village duly requested by Mr. Tomasik in accordance with state FOIA requirements. Mr. Tomasik sought the data to determine whether there is a disparity between the way Thornton residents and non-residents are treated with regard to paying bills to an ambulance service owned and operated by the village.
In 2011, the case was favorably settled. Notably, the Village Board agreed to pay $3,756.00 in legal fees to the Center attorneys and to provide the FOIA information requested by Mr. Tomasik. The Center for Open Government is proud of its FOIA victory in this case. "Rather than needlessly spend taxpayer money on litigation, it was gratifying to see the Village comply with its FOIA obligations and provide the requested public records to Paul Tomasik," stated former Center Director Natalie Brouwer Potts. She adds, "Former Director Terry Norton was pivotal in winning this case for good government in Illinois."
Barrett v. Hinsdale Township School District 86 Superintendent Nicholas Wahl and School Board President Dennis Brennan — Center sues a school district on behalf of a school board member to compel the district to properly provide unfettered access to all school district records.
In July 2010, attorneys for the Center for Open Government filed a lawsuit in DuPage County Circuit Court against Hinsdale Township School District 86 Superintendent Nicholas Wahl and school board President Dennis Brennan on behalf of school board member Diane Barrett. The lawsuit was filed one year after Mrs. Barrett requested documents related to the district's Special Education Department (SED). In July 2009, Mrs. Barrett asked for documents related to complaints made against the SED, which ranged from informal in nature to those arising out of more formal "due process" hearings which are held in accordance with state law. Mrs. Barrett is seeking access to the data in an effort to verify state board of education statistics that SED has more complaints per capita than any other Illinois district. District 86 allegedly has high numbers of outplaced students and, over the years, has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to defend complaints against SED. While the information requested is not available to the general public under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Mrs. Barrett's role as a member of the board responsible for providing state-mandated services entitles her to review the documents.
The Center for Open Government maintains that District 86 repeatedly and improperly denied Mrs. Barrett access to district documents relevant to her duties as a school board member. It is the Center's position that under the governing law, school board members are entitled to unabridged access to documents pertaining to their districts. The Center has requested the following relief on behalf of Mrs. Barrett: to declare that board members are entitled to access to all Board and District documents without limitation and without a FOIA request; an order for the requested documents; a permanent injunction restraining Defendant from refusing to produce to Mrs. Barrett the documents necessary and proper to the performance of her duties and responsibilities as a board member; and attorneys' fees and costs.
"This case focuses on two important problem areas we want to eliminate in Illinois," said attorney Clint Krislov, founder of the Center for Open Government. "First, for 'public access' to be meaningful, the extraordinary time it takes to get access to public documents must be drastically shortened. Second, we want to establish that all members of Illinois governing bodies, boards or boards of education are, by their offices, entitled to full access to the public records of the bodies on which they serve." Litigation is ongoing in this matter.
Hughes-Reigle-Emery-Bradley v. Lemont-Bromberek Combined School District 113A (Former and Current School Board Members) — Center sues a school district on behalf of a school board member and residents to force the district to account for millions of taxpayer dollars mismanaged and unlawfully concealed by the district.
In December 2010, attorneys for the Center for Open Government filed two lawsuits in Cook County Circuit Court alleging concealment and financial mismanagement against former and current members of the Lemont-Bromberek Combined School District 113A. The lawsuits, which were later consolidated, allege that District 113A school board members "engaged or aided in illegal spending, and then took steps to conceal expenditures by draining funds legally appropriated for other purposes, all in violation of Illinois law," which allegedly resulted in the loss of $12 million in taxpayer money, according to the original Complaint. The consolidated action claims that District 113A officials "repeatedly caused monies from the district's working cash fund to be diverted or otherwise used in violation of law and without proper notice having been given to District 113A taxpayers" between the years 2007 and 2010.
One lawsuit was filed on behalf of then-current school board member Janet Hughes, while the second was filed on behalf of Lemont residents Laura Reigle, Louis Emery and Duane Bradley. Defendants in the lawsuit are: Superintendent Tim Ricker; Assistant Superintendent Mary Gricus; former Business Manager Robert Beckwith; current Board President Lisa Wright; current Board Vice President Kevin Doherty; current Board Members John Wood and Sue Murphy; and former Board Members David Leahy, Gwen O'Malley and Al Albrecht. Also originally listed as defendants are Lloyds Illinois Inc., an insurance company, and Knutte Associates, an accounting firm responsible for the district's financial audits from 2007 to 2010. On behalf of the Plaintiffs, the Center seeks monetary damages. The parties are currently litigating whether the accountant defendants should be dismissed from the case. Attorney Clint Krislov has argued that given the "derivative" nature of the claims against these defendants, the appropriate approach is to view the taxpayers as taking action for the district "to pursue the accountants for malpractice."
The Center for Open Government is deeply committed to addressing and exposing the financial mismanagement in this case through taxpayer litigation. "Recovering taxpayer money would be a victory for everyone impacted by this financial disaster, and will advance stronger government accountability throughout Illinois," according to former Center Director Natalie Brouwer Potts. Litigation is ongoing in this matter.
Hughes v. Lemont-Bromberek Combined School District 113A (Former and Current Members) — Center sues a school district on behalf of a school board member to force the district to give full access to all closed session meeting records and district financial records.
In April 2011, attorneys for the Center for Open Government filed a second lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of Janet Hughes alleging violations of the Illinois Open Meetings Act against Lemont-Bromberek Combined School District 113A Superintendent Tim Ricker, board member Lisa Wright and former board member John Wood. The lawsuit alleges that now-former school board member Mrs. Hughes, despite repeated and legitimate requests, was denied access to financial statements and recordings of closed meetings during her two-year term in office. According to the Complaint, Mrs. Hughes was "flatly refused access to verbatim recordings of closed session meetings, and denied her access to District financial records" in violation of the Open Meetings Act.
The Center has requested the following relief on behalf of Mrs. Hughes: to declare as illegal the school district's policies of placing the burden on a school board member to show the relevance of any records/closed session recordings requests, denying members access to recordings of closed session meetings and denying members access to the district's financial records; to declare that board members are entitled access "to all board and district documents and other information, without limitation, and without having to pursue access under the Freedom of Information Act"; and for an injunction ordering defendants to produce files on all accounts payable, as well as previously requested recordings of closed meeting sessions. Litigation is ongoing in this matter.