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Chicago Spent Hundreds Of Thousands To Fight FOIA Requests In 2016

By aaroncynic in News on Jan 2, 2017 6:24PM

City Hall, via senor codo/Flickr
Mayor Rahm Emanuel may have said he planned on running “the most open, accountable and transparent government that the city of Chicago has ever seen," but as we’ve seen over his two terms, that pledge was mostly about public relations. In fact, the city spent a pretty penny in 2016 in payouts to plaintiffs in open records lawsuits.

According to a report from the Tribune, the city shelled out $670,000 just last year in 27 settlements alleging officials violated open records laws— almost five times what it paid in the previous eight years combined. The bulk of them—nineteen of the 27—involve Freedom of Information Act requests made to the Chicago Police Department. The others are a smattering of city entities including the much maligned Independent Police Review Authority, finance department, the Office of Emergency Management and others.

The most expensive case was over the Laquan McDonald video, brought by journalist Brandon Smith. The city paid $97,500 in fees and court costs to fight its release.

The city also paid a healthy sum over two lawsuits brought by the Tribune itself. In two of the several lawsuits the Tribune has brought forth—one over emails from former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and another over former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett—the city paid out a total of $141,000.

Other large sums of fees and court costs include $96,275 over the Better Government Association’s suit which led to the release of the latest batch of emails from Rahm Emanuel, $77,697 to the Animal Legal Defense Fund over records from Animal Care and Control, and $19,384 over the death of a man named Heriberto Godinez, who died in police custody in July of 2015.

"The uptick in lawsuits reflects the city's disregard for the importance of the open records law and the fact that the city is understaffed in this area,” said the Tribune’s legal vice president Karen Flax. “It is pay now or pay later: If the city would produce the records to which the public is entitled in the first place, we would not need to file lawsuits and incur legal fees which the city then needs to cover."