State AG tells Gibbons' office to explain its refusal to turn over sexual harassment records

By Record News | Nov 19, 2018

SPRINGFIELD – Attorney General Lisa Madigan expects Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons to explain why he denied access to records of a harassment allegation after she found legitimate public interest in it.

“We have determined that further action is warranted,” deputy chief of public access Joshua Jones wrote to Gibbons assistant Jeff Ezra on Nov. 15.

Jones told Ezra he must explain the denial in seven business days.

Former office secretary Andrew Kane requested the records for his own retaliation suit against Gibbons and the county in U.S. district court.


Madigan  

The investigation resulted from a complaint that former employee Kelly Babillis brought against former office administrator Kevin Hendricks, who also had supervised Kane.

Ezra first denied Kane’s information request in March.

Kane petitioned Madigan’s office to overturn the denial, and Jones did on Oct. 16.

Jones wrote that public interest in how the state’s attorney’s office investigated and managed allegations outweighed privacy interests.

He specifically rejected privacy for the subject of the complaint, former office administrator Kevin Hendricks.

“Because the investigatory information bears on his public duties, the disclosure of that information would not constitute an unwarranted invasion of his personal privacy," Jones wrote.

He wrote that disclosing the identity of the alleged victim would be objectionable.

"Nonetheless, the state’s attorney’s office did not demonstrate that disclosing general information concerning her allegations would substantially invade her personal privacy under these circumstances.”

Jones wrote that the conduct did not rise to the level of assault.

He allowed minimal redactions of salacious content, writing that the details weren’t particularly graphic. He noted that Gibbons provided an unredacted copy of the records two months after the due date.

He wrote that the delay hampered the review, and that compliance was mandatory.

Kane renewed his request for the Hendricks file on Oct. 26, writing that the attorney general ordered release.

Gibbons disagreed.

On Nov. 2, Ezra informed Kane that Jones’s opinion was "advisory" only.

Ezra wrote that it wasn’t binding and had no legal effect.

“Your request is further denied for all of the reasons included within the prior denials for the exact same materials," he wrote.

On Nov. 7, Kane asked Jones for a binding opinion.

Instead, Jones sent Ezra a terse letter with a short fuse.

Jones asked Ezra to “please explain the county’s assertion that it previously denied the same request in its entirety in light of this office’s determination that certain responsive information is not exempt from disclosure.”

A new deadline of seven business days could run to the end of the month, depending on when Gibbons received it.

Kane’s federal suit would have gone to trial in October, but lawyers for the county moved to continue it due to schedule conflicts.

Chief District Judge Michael Reagan denied the motion but suggested the parties try their case before Magistrate Judge Stephen Williams.

Both sides consented to Williams.

Last month he granted summary judgment to Gibbons and the county on sexual discrimination but ruled that Kane could proceed on retaliation.

Williams has not set trial.

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