(Cue The Clash!) But in the end, it was a Pyrrhic victory for the Kane County State’s Attorney. Put more simply, I may have lost yesterday’s battle, but we won the war!
Of course, we’re talking about the final legal outcome of my lawsuit against State’s Attorney Joe McMahon asking the judge to force him to turn over 255 pages of sexual harassment complaints against just one former prosecutor.
But before we continue, I want to offer a heartfelt thank you to all the folks who’ve wholeheartedly supported me in this 13-month endeavor. From readers, to friends – three of whom showed up yesterday, to elected officials, to a number of attorneys, to the woman who had the courage to tell me her story, there are good people out there who believe in doing the right thing.
To make matters even better, the Judge made a point of complimenting me on my argument and generally professional comportment. Who knew?
So, here’s what happened in that Kendall County courtroom yesterday.
1. I won the legal argument, but…!
At least according the attorney in attendance, and my other two friends told me opposing counsel was quite agitated throughout my summation.
The KCSAO’s defense was primarily based on the FOIA statute privacy exemption, and I tore that contention apart by correctly apply the law and citing a slew of appellate court rulings. Joe McMahon clearly perverted that privacy exemption to protect his own ass; he certainly didn’t give a flying bleep about the victims’ privacy.
Nice guy, huh?
But my argument against that exemption wasn’t enough, because I lost on a point of law opposing counsel didn’t even consider. Since the men and women in black must adhere to the law regardless of the arguments in front of them, after privately reviewing the “complaints,” Judge Barnhart concluded that, “Those documents are inextricably linked to the deliberatory and investigative process.”
And investigative “notes” are, indeed, exempt from FOIA requests.
I also want to express my sincere gratitude to Judge Barnhart for allowing me to ask more than a few questions after her ruling so I better understood it. As it turns out, there was just one two-page sexual harassment complaint in all of those 255 pages.
By the way, there will be no appeal because, in order to prevail, I’d have to prove the Judge was lying about the nature of those documents, and not only does she have a stellar reputation, but she clearly wasn’t lying. We’ll get to that in a bit.
2. How the bleep did I win with the Attorney General?
That’s the real question, and it’s beyond ironic that I did win. Perhaps I shoulda been an attorney, after all.
Given Judge Barnhart’s correct reading of the documents and the law, the Public Access Counselor (PAC) should’ve ordered the KCSAO to turn over the two-page redacted complaint and the “disciplinary” letter McMahon finally provided (previously posted here).
But for some glorious reason, they told the KCSAO to provide me with every last page which set a somewhat strange series of events in motion.
3. The incompetence of Joe McMahon and the KCSAO
I know some of y’all aren’t too terribly fond of Kane County Chairman Chris Lauzen, but his recent shellacking of the KCSAO for multiple bouts of incompetence was dead on! From the Campton Hills rehab center debacle to that office reviewing the wrong labor contracts, it’s been case after case of nightmarish legal malpractice.
And apparently, they can’t correctly answer a FOIA request, either.
Civil Division head Joe Lulves is so arrogant he thought it would be funny to send me 255 pages with all but one sentence greyed out. Remember, he’s the one who regularly brags his office is FOIA-proof. The correct answer to that request should’ve been just those four pages because that’s all I really asked for.
But when Lulves responded with 255 pages, it made it look like they had something to hide and that incited my 13-month quest.
Ironic, isn’t it?
4. The fallout from an errant FOIA response
So, here’s how the war was won! The entire journalistic point has been to remove Joe McMahon from office. As far as serving his constituents goes, he’s the worst state’s attorney in Kane County’s long history, and that includes Meg Gorecki, who actually did resign.
Had Lulves accurately submitted those four pages, there would’ve been no Attorney General appeal and no year-long pursuit of the truth. But because he couldn’t or wouldn’t do the right thing, I appealed his “amusing” response, and I won. It truly is better to be lucky than smart!
And that gave the KCSAO sexual harassment scandal story new legs.
Not only that, but that victory came at a time when McMahon was considering running for reelection. But with someone having publicly and privately recruited an opponent, and with the real threat of a judge ordering the disclosure of those documents weighing heavily upon him, he chose to step down.
5. Here’s what we know now
My primary source told me she was the only one with the nerve to file a written harassment complaint, but when I saw those 255 pages, I thought she was mistaken. It turns out she was right.
So, when Judge Barnhart ruled that 251 of those pages were investigative in nature, that means the KCSAO compiled that massive volume only to conclude that the appropriate response was to move the harasser across the office. We all know that’s the cure for sexual harassment, right? Make ‘em walk a few extra steps and it all stops!
And if you reread that disciplinary missive, you’ll note they moved him, not be because of the harassment, but because the prosecutor bragged about being such good friends with McMahon that he could get away with anything.
McMahon didn’t give a bleep about any of the victims! He only did something when his subordinate insulted him.
As you might imagine, I spoke to my sources after yesterday’s ruling and they confirmed that most of the sexual harassment complaints came through exit interviews conducted by McMahon himself. So, he damn well knew how pervasive the problem was, but the problem is you can’t FOIA conversations.
That’s exactly what this state’s attorney’s office excels in – circumventing the law – because they know exactly how to do it. Joe McMahon, former First Assistant Jody Gleason, Civil Division Head Joe Lulves, and Misdemeanor Chief Joe Cullen are so much worse than the people they prosecute, because they really oughtta know better.
And Gleason’s now a Kendall County judge. No bad deed goes unrewarded in the justice system.
At the end of the hearing, Judge Barnhart did note that a different State’s Attorney might choose to answer my FOIA request differently.
It ain’t over folks!