Open administrative court cases to freedom of information requests

The Illinois court system spends taxpayers’ money. She signs contracts for everything from electronic filing systems to janitorial services.

The public should be able to have a transparent view of how this money is spent. He should be able to see what procedures are in place to protect private information and whether those procedures are being strictly followed. The public should be able to see if the court registries are working efficiently.

But, unlike the executive and legislative branches of government, the judiciary does not need to respond to freedom of information requests. It’s time to lower the hammer on this.

Illinois’ Freedom of Information Act of 1984, which allows citizens, the media and others to request to see government records, does not mention the judiciary. But courts have interpreted the law to mean that the judiciary is not a “public agency” for the purposes of FOIA requests.

In short, the courts keep the public in the dark about how they spend taxpayers’ money and engage in other administrative activities for no good reason.

At. On Feb. 9, State Rep. Curtis J. Tarver II, D-Chicago, introduced a bill that would clarify that the courts are a “public agency.” The bill exempts records related to court cases and judicial decision-making.

Such a bill could come up against a thorny issue of separation of powers, with one branch of government, the legislature, telling another branch, the courts, what to do.

A better solution would be for the Supreme Court of Illinois to implement this reform alone. This would avoid the separation of powers problem and prevent any effort to water down the law, as happened last year with a bill that would have defined the offices of circuit court clerks as public bodies subject to to FOIA requests.

No one is talking about digging into private court documents or interfering in the realm of judicial decision-making, both of which should remain private. It is simply to make government operations more transparent.

The Illinois Supreme Court publishes annual reports containing statistical and financial information about courts at all levels. Circuit court clerks are required to submit annual financial audits and caseload information.

This information is useful, but it is not enough.

Forty-four other states allow the disclosure of data regarding the functions of administrative tribunals, either through a freedom of information law, a statute that covers judges, or a rule imposed by the courts. according to the Civic Federation. Illinois, the last state to enact freedom of information legislation, needs to catch up.

It’s time to put a little more transparency on the role.

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