In a post-conviction proceeding, an inmate sent a FOIA request to the States Attorney Office (SAO) asking for certain records relating to his conviction that he had been previously denied access to through a previous discovery request. The SAO denied the inmate FOIA’s request citing exemption 7(1)(a), arguing that the requested records were prohibited from disclosure by Illinois Supreme Court Rules 412 and 415. The inmate then sued the SAO claiming it violated FOIA by denying his request, and sought attorney fees, costs, and a civil penalty. The circuit court dismissed the inmate’s lawsuit, finding that the records were exempt from disclosure pursuant to FOIA exemption 7(1)(a) because the inmate’s FOIA request attempted to circumvent the Kankakee County circuit court discovery order which had prohibited disclosure of the requested records. The inmate appealed.
In Watford v. Rowe, the appellate court held that the inmate’s case was properly dismissed and the FOIA request properly denied. The appellate court determined that a person may not use FOIA to obtain discovery materials after their motion for discovery was denied in a separate collateral proceeding that is still pending. The court also determined that the inmate was not entitled to an award of attorney fees under FOIA section 11(i), because the inmate did not prevail on his claim, and in any event, a pro se litigant is not entitled to an award of attorney fees. Further, the court denied the inmate’s petition for civil penalties against the SAO pursuant to FOIA section 11(j) because there was no evidence that the SAO intentionally or willfully failed to comply with the FOIA request or otherwise acted in bad faith.
Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov, Ancel Glink