Village Settles 2012 BGA Lawsuit, Board Approves $23K Payment to Plaintiff’s Counsel
By Michael Romain
At a December 17, 2013, board meeting, the Village Board approved the payment of $23,000 as part of a legal settlement of a lawsuit filed against the Village of Maywood by the Better Government Association (BGA), an investigative watchdog news outlet. The case, Better Government Association v. Maywood, was filed on August 21, of last year after the Village refused to release a grand jury subpoena, an action that the BGA said was a violation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Based on its ruling, apparently a Cook County Circuit Court judge agreed with the BGA and ordered the Village to turn over the subpoena. The Village ultimately complied.
In an article published on the organization’s website the same day it filed the lawsuit, BGA President and CEO Andy Shaw said, “Maywood officials have a documented history of playing games and hiding public information […] We’re tired of it. The public is entitled to know how a local government is being managed, or mismanaged, and whether corruption is involved, and this subpoena may help us assess that.”
For its part, the Village stated its position in a letter addressing the matter, some of the contents of which were disclosed in the case file. The Village claimed that “the grand jury subpoena is exempt from disclosure because its release would a) ‘interfer[e] with a pending or actually and reasonably contemplated law enforcement proceeding conducted by the the Village’s Police Department;’ (b) ‘endanger the life or physical safety of law enforcement personnel’; and (c) ‘obstruct an ongoing criminal investigation by the Village’s Police Department,’ respectively […]”.
The BGA, not satisfied with this explanation, retorted in the August 21, article that “other news organizations are routinely provided copies of subpoenas upon request, and in 2007 the BGA successfully sued state government to obtain copies of federal subpoenas that then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich tried to keep secret.
“What’s more, as the new lawsuit asserts, Maywood’s reasons for withholding the subpoena don’t hold water under state law, which spells out when a public agency may or may not keep a public document from public view.”
The Chicago-based law firm Kirkland & Ellis, LLP, filed the BGA’s suit pro bono. As part of the settlement agreement, the Village has to pay the firm $23,000 in legal fees. Those fees were approved by the Board at the December 17, meeting as part of an omnibus agenda.
Kirkland & Ellis also filed pro bono a 2011 suit brought against the Village by four Maywood citizens–Mayor Edwenna Perkins and Trustee Cheryl Ealey-Cross among them–who alleged similar FOIA violations. That suit also led to a large settlement for both the legal firm and the individual plaintiffs. VFP