Technically, it’s been seven days without a direct response from Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon in regard to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office upholding my appeal of their FOIA denial of 255 pages of sexual harassment complaints against just one former prosecutor.
If you recall, this disclosure war has been waging since October, but believe it or not, there has been some movement and it comes at the hands of Shaw Media who deftly dove directly into the FOIA fray.
My attorney, Jeff Meyer, and I were convinced the KCSAO would continue to ignore both the AG’s order and The First Ward, forcing us to take them to court to secure the documents. But the Kane County Chronicle’s coverage of the story did, indeed, solicit a State’s Attorney response.
And that’s the way it should be. We journalists may be a semi-dysfunctional bunch, but in the end, we all have the same goal – to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. And a great part of that process is to consistently turn a watchful eye towards those government entities that may otherwise try to put one past the taxpayer.
Our most important tool in that regard is the 1967 Freedom of Information Act our print media predecessors fought so hard to make law. This may be a vast oversimplification, but with slim exception, those documents underwritten by the taxpayer must be made available to the taxpayer upon a formal request.
So, when a governmental entity illegally denies one reporter’s FOIA request, they’re denying all of us. That’s why The First Ward jumped to the Daily Herald’s defense after the City of Carpentersville ignored an Attorney General’s 2014 FOIA ruling. The concept of government disclosure is not only critical to investigative journalism, but to the long-term health of a well-functioning Democracy.
So, I want to thank Shaw Media, the Kane County Chronicle, and reporter Brenda Schory for asserting the kind of pressure that forced the KCSAO to respond to the AG’s ruling. But as thrilled as I am with Shaw Media, I’m not at all happy with McMahon’s attempt to use the same sad arguments that have already failed twice.
On the positive side, McMahon did acknowledge the KCSAO’s legal obligations when he told Schory:
We’ll go through documents we have previously produced and if there is a way for us to release additional documents and still comply with these other state laws I have to comply with, that is what we’ll do.
Though I’m not sure what he means by “additional documents.” They’ve already released all 255 pages, it’s just that they redacted all but one sentence.
On the negative side, McMahon added:
The letter from the assistant attorney general disregards some of the important safeguards that are in place to protect the confidentiality rights of alleged victims and witnesses and will have a chilling effect on the willingness of some individuals and witnesses to come forward and report harassment in the future.
No! it doesn’t! If you read the AG’s ruling
they didn’t disregard a damn thing. They covered the cited safeguards at length and made it abundantly clear that the KCSAO fell far short of providing “clear and convincing evidence” for the FOIA denial. What makes them think the third time will be the charm?
The AG quoted me directly while agreeing with my twin assertions that, “The public has a right to know if taxpayer funded offices are resolving sexual harassment complaints in an appropriate manner,” and “Mr. Ward argued that the State’s Attorney’s Office’s sexual harassment policy ‘is just that— policy, and if policies could be considered law, the State’s Attorney’ s Office could implement a series of ‘policies’ that would essentially render them FOIA-proof.”
I also stand by my original argument that:
…aiding and abetting a 6- to 8-year sexual harasser, who generated 255 pages of complaints (Mr. Lulves admits this) during that time, and was only fired when I caught on, is even more deleterious to the complaint process than answering a FOIA request. I know at least 4 female ASA’s who resigned because the KCSAO did nothing to stop this harassment.
Please let me remind the KCSAO that the “trial” is over and as is the time for presenting new evidence. Any further attempt to do so is yet another delaying tactic. Trust me, McMahon’s not nearly concerned with the victims, many of whom have already come forward, as he is in protecting his own posteriors.
So, now we wait to see what final response, if any, will be forthcoming. And if it’s just another lame KCSAO attempt to abrogate the AG’s ruling, this time I will get them issue the binding variety.
The good news is, local journalism may be on life support, but it’s not dead. Just like the Duke of Wellington’s spirit rose when he saw the Prussian army finally arrive on that Waterloo battlefield, I’m thrilled to have Shaw Media covering this story.