Month: March 2015

Email Addresses Must Be Posted on Public Body’s Website

If you have a website, a new law requires posting certain trustee, council or board member email addresses

By Joshua D. Herman

The Illinois Local Records Act was amended by the addition of 50 ILCS 205/20, which became effective January 1, 2015. The amendment requires units of local government and school districts that serve a population of less than 1,000,000 and maintain an Internet website (other than a social media or social networking website) to “post to its website for the current calendar year a mechanism, such as a uniform single email address, for members of the public to electronically communicate with elected officials of that unit of local government or school district, unless such officials have an individual email address for that purpose.”

Public bodies must become compliant with the new law by April 1, 2015 (90 days after the Act went into effect).

Crucial Rule for Processing Traffic Tickets

Court dismisses ticket because it was not transmitted to circuit clerk within 48-hour deadline

By Kateah M. McMasters

Supreme Court Rule 552 requires municipal police officers and police departments to transmit traffic citations to the circuit clerk within 48 hours of issuance.

In 1989, the Illinois Appellate Court held that this Rule is directory rather than mandatory, and that the dismissal of a traffic citation for a violation of this Rule is only appropriate where the procedure used by an officer or police department was part of a pattern that clearly and consistently violated the Rule.  However, the Court did not define what constitutes such a pattern.

Through its recent decision in People v. Geiler, the Illinois Appellate Court shed further light on this issue when it upheld a dismissal of a traffic citation based upon a police department’s practice of delivering citations to the circuit clerk on Mondays and Fridays.

People v. Geiler

People v. Geiler arises from a speeding ticket issued to Christopher Geiler on Monday, May 5, 2014, by a City of Troy police officer.  Troy police department usually hand-delivered tickets issued over the weekend on Monday and delivered citations issued during the week on Friday. Thus, Geiler’s Monday ticket was not filed with the Madison County circuit clerk until Friday, May 9, 2014 (four days later).

The Geiler Court found that, under this procedure, citations issued on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays were consistently transported to the circuit clerk beyond the 48-hour deadline.  Thus, the Court upheld the dismissal of Mr. Geiler’s citation because the delay he suffered was a clear and consistent violation of Rule 552.  Moreover, the Court upheld the dismissal despite the testimony of an officer with 11 years of experience that it was impossible to transport citations to the courthouse every day.

While the dismissal of one traffic citation may seem inconsequential, the regular dismissal of traffic citations for regular delays could significantly impact a public body’s ability to consistently enforce the law or to generate revenue from the issuance and prosecution of traffic citations.

Lessons learned: review ticket procedures immediately

Public bodies should review their police departments’ procedures for processing traffic citations to ensure compliance with Rule 522 and to avoid the routine dismissal of citations.   One effective way to comply with the Rule is to have an officer hand-deliver the citations to the circuit clerk every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  Upon delivery, the officer should have the clerk sign a receipt that lists which citations   were delivered and the date of delivery.

Hand delivery three times a week may be a substantial burden for small or rural public bodies.  If so, police departments should mail the citations every Monday, Wednesday and Friday using certified mail, or some other method that provides proof of mailing.  A record should be kept  of the mailed citations that includes the date on which the citations were mailed.

Please note that the Geiler Court held Friday citations that were not delivered until Monday violated Rule 522’s the 48-hour rule. Thus, in light of Geiler, police departments should also consider mailing  on Saturday any citations issued on Friday, in addition to either hand-delivering or mailing citations every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

With receipts and records of mailing in-hand, public bodies can prevent future ticket dismissals for alleged violations of Rule 522.

Personal Information Obtained From Driver’s Record Must Be Removed From FOIA Responses

Public bodies take note, new case holds newspaper may have violated law by publishing personal information obtained from driving records

By Joshua D. Herman

Newspapers often pursue legal and administrative remedies against public bodies, alleging failure to properly disclose information in response to a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request. The tables were turned in Dahlstrom v. Sun-Times Media, LLC, 2015 WL 481097, a case decided by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in February, 2015. In Dahlstrom, five police officers sued the Chicago Sun-Times for its disclosure of personal information that it obtained from the officers’ driver’s records.

Dahlstrom v. Sun-Times Media

This case is instructive for public bodies attempting to comply with FOIA while avoiding liability for disclosing certain information.  Dahlstrom arises from the Sun-Times’ reporting on the Chicago Police Department’s (“CPD”) murder investigation of the nephew of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley. The Sun-Times questioned the legitimacy of a lineup featuring the nephew and five CPD officers in an article titled: “Daley Nephew Biggest Guy on Scene, But Not in Lineup.” The Sun-Times published photographs of the lineup and the officers’ names, both of which were obtained from the CPD. Problematically, the Sun-Times also published information it received from the Secretary of State, including: the months and years of the officers’ births, their heights, weights, hair colors, and eye colors.

The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (the “DPPA”), 18 U.S.C. 2721, prohibits any person from knowingly obtaining or disclosing personal information from a motor vehicle record. The Act defines “personal information” as “information that identifies an individual, including an individual’s photograph, social security number, driver identification number, name, address (but not the 5-digit zip code), telephone number, and medical or disability information, but does not include information on vehicular accidents, driving violations, and driver’s status.”

The Sun-Times claimed the information it published from the Secretary of State was not “personal information,” and, even if it were, the DPPA violates the First Amendment by preventing the press from reporting the news.  The Seventh Circuit rejected  both of the Sun-Times’ arguments.

First, it held that the information at issue was “personal information” under the DPPA. The Court noted that, prior to enactment of the DPPA, virtually anyone could get motor vehicle records for any driver, from almost any state and for any reason, and that the purpose of the DPPA was to protect personal information from being so readily disclosed. The Court also recognized that the DPPA was meant to prevent some states from continuing a practice of selling drivers’ personal information to businesses engaged in direct marketing and solicitation.

Second, the Court held that the DPPA does not unconstitutionally restrict First Amendment rights to speech and the press. Instead, it provides a valid, content-neutral restriction imposed on a rational basis.

Based on these holdings, the Court upheld the denial of the Sun-Times’ motion to dismiss, and ordered the officers’ suit to continue.

FOIA Responses After Dahlstrom

While FOIA permits a public body to redact certain exempt information from public records before it produces them in response to a request, FOIA does not typically require redaction. For example, Section 7 of FOIA allows a municipality to redact private and personal information from a FOIA response. Section 7.5 allows redaction of “[l]aw enforcement officer identification information or driver identification information compiled by a law enforcement agency or the Department of Transportation under Section 11-212 of the Illinois Vehicle Code” and “[p]ersonally identifiable information which is exempted from disclosure under subsection (g) of Section 19.1 of the Toll Highway Act.” Of course, FOIA also has a catch-all exemption that permits redaction of information “specifically prohibited from disclosure by federal or State law or rules and regulations implementing federal or State law.”  However, none of these require the relevant information be redacted.

Dahlstrom demonstrates that disclosure of personal information obtained from drivers’ and motor vehicle records may subject a public body to liability under the DPPA. To avoid liability, public bodies must redact this type of information from their FOIA responses.

Readers may also be interested to know that the Seventh Circuit included a footnote that told the rest of the underlying story in Dahlstrom. The Cook County Circuit Court appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the matter. Daley’s nephew was subsequently indicted and charged with involuntary manslaughter, to which he pled guilty in January 2014.

In conclusion, regardless of how a public body obtains personal information from driver and motor vehicle records, the body must redact such information before producing documents in a FOIA response. If you ever question whether certain information can be obtained or should be disclosed without violating FOIA or the DPPA, please consult your attorney.