The Better Government Association has asked a judge to reopen its recently settled email lawsuit against Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a dispute over more than 300 communications that the watchdog group argues may have been improperly withheld by the city when it released the mayor’s personal emails related to public business.
The motion, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, also challenges the city’s selective use of redactions to hide some content in emails it did release.
As part of an agreement with the BGA, the city in December released more than 3,000 pages of emails that showed Emanuel routinely using his personal accounts to conduct city business. The mayor and city did not admit wrongdoing, but the lawsuit had alleged that Emanuel turned to personal email to evade open records law transparency requirements.
In its new legal challenge, the BGA is asking Cook County Judge Sophia Hall to scrutinize the validity of the city’s claim that exemptions in open records law allowed it to withhold or redact many of the mayor’s business related personal emails.
“We made it crystal clear, when we agreed to settle the case in December, that we would be back in court if we felt city lawyers were in violation of open records laws by improperly withholding some emails and redacting the content of others,” said BGA President and CEO Andy Shaw. “We believe the mayor’s lawyers are doing just that, so here we are, back in court, continuing our fight for transparency.” […]
According to the city’s own descriptions, many of those withheld emails involve discussions of so-called “talking points” and “press strategy,” in essence how to manage the administration’s messaging on a variety of subjects. Others involve conversations between Emanuel and people not on the city payroll, in particular Michael Sacks, the wealthy CEO of global investment firm Grosvenor Capital Management, who has emerged as both a sounding board and key political fundraiser for the mayor.
And still others, the BGA asserted in its motion, are described by the city index in such vague terms that it is difficult to assess whether the decision to withhold them could meet any legal test. Examples include emails described only as “discussion of strategy for day ahead.”
The BGA challenge also asks Hall to weigh the validity of the city’s decision to obscure portions of some Emanuel emails it did release. In several of those, the comments of aides to the mayor were made public but his own responses were blacked out and rendered unreadable. […]
In its motion, the BGA questions whether the city has overreached in applying such exemptions to block release of some or all of the withheld emails. “The Mayor’s Office must provide clear and convincing evidence that the withheld records, and the redacted portions of the records that were produced, are exempt,” the BGA motion asserts.