What does a news organization love? It loves democracy. It loves its community. It loves truth. But as with most relationships, the news organization knows its public partners have flaws and need reminders to be their better selves.
So the Belleville News-Democrat recently sent a long note to St. Clair County’s prosecutor and the state’s Department of Corrections and its Prisoner Review Board asking that they do better at being open. The lawsuit against the three entities is related to their denials for information sought under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act about St. Clair County Circuit Judge Ron Duebbert and convicted felon and accused murderer David Fields.
Before he was a judge, Duebbert was close enough with Fields to have him living in his Belleville home. Duebbert visited Fields in state prison, signing in as an attorney to visit Fields though he was not representing Fields.
The state prison folks denied the request for those records citing the exemption protecting “associations” between inmates and visitors. That argument was made without further explanation despite the pair making their “association” public in social media videos of them joyriding in Duebbert’s Porsche, by Fields listing Duebbert’s address as his home and by the two talking on recorded calls from the St. Clair County Jail.
St. Clair County Jail records and exhibits that were part of State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly’s complaint against Duebbert to the Judicial Inquiry Board were also denied us. The state’s Prisoner Review Board denied records of Fields’ parole violations.
The Freedom of Information Act errs on the side of disclosure and expects public bodies to prove there will be harm from disclosure of public information, also known as the truth.
So to court we go, asking for honesty and expecting transparency from our public servants — solid foundations for any long-term relationship.