State's Attorney mulls FOIA request on prosecutor accused of sexual harassment

McMahon cites personnel laws that conflict with FOIA

ST. CHARLES TOWNSHIP – The Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office is considering a response to a recent finding by the Illinois Attorney General that it improperly withheld some documents from a Freedom of Information Act request.

The request was made by Jeff Ward of Geneva on Oct. 11, 2018. Ward asked for all sexual harassment complaints against a former prosecutor during his time at the office; all responses and dispositions; and paperwork on why he paid 10 weeks after leaving the office.

The first two were denied, citing exemptions that sexual harassment reports are confidential. The third request was granted – but there were no documents to provide.

The June 14 non-binding letter from Assistant Attorney General Teresa Lim, of the Public Access Bureau, requested that the denied documents be provided.

“The disclosure of information that bears on the public duties of public employees and officials shall not be considered an invasion of personal privacy,” according to Lim’s letter. “There is a legitimate public interest in information concerning the claims against him and how the State’s Attorney’s Office addressed the matter.”

Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon said his office was in the process of reviewing the letter to determine a response.

“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,” McMahon said.

The Freedom of Information Act does not exist in a vacuum, McMahon said, as other laws also govern personnel records, including the Personnel Record Review Act and the State Officials and employees Ethics Act, among others.

“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,” McMahon stated in an email.