Rauner sues AG Madigan, One Ill. to withhold emails

Even though he lost his re-election bid, the governor persists in fighting a binding opinion ordering the release of FOIA’d documents

Gov. Rauner is suing to withhold emails on how he determined government appointments. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Gov. Rauner is suing to withhold emails on how he determined government appointments. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

The governor is suing the state attorney general and One Illinois to withhold emails on government appointments from the public.

Although he lost his re-election bid Nov. 6, Gov. Bruce Rauner filed suit a week later to fight a binding opinion issued by Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office that 1,783 emails should be released to One Illinois in a Freedom of Information Act case.

The move was unexpected — at least by One Illinois — in that Rauner could have simply ignored the binding opinion issued by the attorney general’s public access counselor and forced One Illinois to file suit to compel enforcement. Instead, he took the initiative in filing — and in spending government money and resources to keep the emails from the public.

According to legal experts, suits against binding opinions in FOIA cases are likely losers, as the public access counselor has already examined and ruled on the issues. Madigan’s office will handle the litigation and press for release of the emails.

If the suit’s not decided by the time Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker is inaugurated Jan. 14, control of it would pass to his administration and he could simply move to release the emails. The Rauner administration would violate several laws if it tried to destroy the emails before he left office. Professor Emeritus Kent Redfield of the University of Illinois at Springfield speculated that Rauner could seek a restraining order that would extend beyond his term in office, but such rulings are rarely granted in these cases.

One Illinois first made the FOIA request in June. The Governor’s Office replied that the request was “unduly burdensome” and that there weren’t adequate search terms to pore through voluminous emails to find ones that applied to the request.

Yet through a series of back-and-forth exchanges, including an appeal to the Office of the Attorney General, the search was narrowed and it was found that 1,783 emails were subject to release under the FOIA request. In a rare decision, Madigan’s public access counselor issued a binding opinion last month that Rauner had violated the act and was therefore ordered to release the emails.

At about the same time, in a separate FOIA case, Rauner’s Department of Healthcare and Family Services released FOIA’d emails to One Illinois showing that his staffers had tried to defeat a bill in the General Assembly expanding funding for abortions in Medicaid and the state’s employee health insurance. As a candidate, Rauner had supported the legislation, known as House Bill 40, but then he flip-flopped to threaten to veto it in a bid to galvanize Republican opposition to a state budget compromise in the two-year impasse he’d forced on the General Assembly. His staffers fought — unsuccessfully — to gather opposition to defeat the bill and keep it off his desk, but he ended up signing it anyway in a decision that divided the Republican Party in Illinois and cost him conservative support for his re-election.

Rauner’s suit was filed Nov. 13 in the state’s Seventh Judicial Circuit in Sangamon County, which of course includes the state capital in Springfield. It listed the Governor’s Office as the petitioner and Attorney General Madigan, One Illinois Media Group, and Ted Cox as defendants. One Illinois only became aware of it when an online summons was issued last week.

One Illinois believes it’s in the public interest to reveal the people Rauner was considering for the government appointments and what he hoped to achieve by appointing them.