By Todd Wineburner
Livingston County State’s Attorney Seth Uphoff has a case pending at the appellate level that might set a precedent for prosecutors statewide.The case deals with the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, and when that act was written, it was designed to make sure that public information was properly disclosed. It also specifically excluded the judicial branch of government from its disclosure provisions. Now the State’s Attorney’s office is facing a FOIA request for documents from a Livingston County Murder Case. Uphoff argues that his office is in the judiciary, and therefore exempt, but the FOIA request argues that a prosecutor's office is formed under the judiciary, but functionally has an executive role in government, and therefore answerable to FOIA provisions.
Current Illinois law is vague on this question, so the case could establish a precedent. If the appellate court rules that FOIA does apply to prosecutors, Uphoff fears it could have a chilling effect on victims, witnesses, and others whose cooperation might be necessary to get a conviction. In addition, Uphoff says his office doesn't know the motivation of the person seeking the request. You can hear WJEZ’s complete conversation with State’s Attorney Seth Uphoff on the podcasts page.