The Headline Club was intensely involved in this project that you will read all about in the following news release from the Citizens Advocacy Center. We hope it will help you.
Determination Letters Issued by Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor Now Available to Public Through Searchable Index.
Determination letters are non-binding opinions issued by the PAC’s Office to resolve complaints about alleged violations of Freedom of Information Act and Open Meetings Act by government bodies that are filed by members of the public and the media. While the PAC’s office has received thousands of request for reviews of alleged violations, only binding opinions are available to the public at http://foia.ilattorneygeneral.net/bindingopinions.aspx.
Determination letters, which are issued far more frequently, are not immediately available. The difference between binding and non-binding opinions is that a binding opinion is reviewable and will receive deference by a circuit court; but a judge is not required to pay heed to a non-binding opinion in an ensuing lawsuit.
CAC has thus far received over 400 determination letters. Over 100 of those letters are now available and the index will be updated on an ongoing basis as additional letters are analyzed.
“Determination letters have tremendous value because the legal analysis for determination letters and binding opinions is substantively identical, and so they reveal how the Attorney General’s Office interprets open government statutes,” explained CAC Executive Director Maryam Judar. “Prior to this index, to access a determination letter, an individual would need to know what she or he is looking for and submit a FOI request to the Attorney General’s Office.”
The index reports several aspects of each determination letter, including the public body type and specific public body name that is implicated, the violation(s) alleged, the specific provision in the FOIA or OMA or outside statute cited, the outcome, and the legal rationale behind the outcome. A link to the original letter is also provided. This index is an important tool that will assist journalists in reporting on government entities’ application of open government laws and writing FOIA requests, and citizens seeking to become more civically involved to produce positive outcomes on issues ranging from budget accountability to social justice.
“The PAC Determination Letter Index levels the playing field between the requester and he public body,” said Judar. Equipping FOIA requesters with an easy way to access determination letters can help them to craft better FOIA requests and target the right public body for their specific request. Likewise, a community member who suspects their public body violated OMA might find similar circumstances described in the index that will help them better evaluate the situation.”
Funding for this project was provided by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and the Chicago Headline Club.