Thu, 09/19/2013 – 5:03pm | Will Brumleve
WATSEKA — The Ford-Iroquois Public Health Department will be required to pay more than $1,000 to a nonprofit watchdog group — and acknowledge that two officials violated the Freedom of Information Act — as conditions of settling two lawsuits filed by the group over the agency’s denial of requests for public records.
Iroquois County State’s Attorney Jim Devine, who serves as the health department’s legal counsel, announced in court Thursday that the settlement had been reached. Judge Ronald J. Gerts approved the settlement, and the lawsuits were dismissed, Devine said.
The Edgar County Watchdogs — headed by Kirk Allen of Kansas, Ill., and John Kraft of Paris, Ill. — filed two lawsuits in Iroquois County Circuit Court this spring, seeking damages for the alleged improper denial of two FOIA requests.
The lawsuits each sought a civil penalty of between $2,500 and $5,000 — as authorized by law — plus the payment of all costs incurred in filing the suits.
Allen and Kraft, however, said Thursday the settlement that was reached did not require the payment of any punitive damages.
They said they agreed to settle the suits in return for the payment of only the costs they incurred, which totaled $1,041 in filing fees, summons fees and mileage costs to travel to and from court.
“We did not want to force the FIPHD to pay fines that would have been no less than $2,500 per violation,” Allen stressed in an email to the Paxton Record. “We simply wanted our costs covered and the records we originally asked for.”
Besides having their expenses covered, Allen and Kraft agreed to the settlement on the conditions that all records requested are provided and that the health department’s former deputy FOIA officer, Doug Corbett, and FOIA officer, Julie Clark, acknowledge that they violated the law. Both were named as defendants.
The records Allen and Kraft requested were provided shortly after their lawsuits were filed. Meanwhile, Clark and Corbett have not publicly acknowledged a FOIA violation, but the board of health has done so on their behalf.