Watchdog group sues to get access to Blagojevich subpoenas
Springfield, Ill. – A government watchdog group on Thursday sued Gov. Rod Blagojevich to get copies of subpoenas federal prosecutors have issued in a state-hiring investigation.
The Better Government Association, a group based in Chicago, sued for subpoenas issued to the administration from January to June 2006, after Blagojevich's legal office denied a request for the documents under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
Blagojevich acknowledged in fall 2005 that subpoenas had been received by his office and the departments of Children and Family Services, Transportation and Corrections from the U.S. attorney in Chicago over allegations of fraud in hiring for state jobs.
Shortly afterward, Blagojevich aides said they would no longer comment on subpoenas or the federal investigation.
The administration denied FOIA requests the BGA filed starting in July, refusing to confirm or deny the existence of subpoenas.
"We're stuck with two options: Go away or file a lawsuit to get the documents," BGA executive director Jay Stewart said. "Although the governor's office would like us to believe there's nothing going on over there in terms of federal investigations, there are and we think the public has a right to know what's going on."
Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said the office is following federal prosecutors' wishes.
"We have been directed by the U.S. attorney's office not to discuss or share information about their work in order to protect the integrity of their investigation," Ottenhoff said.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office wrote in October that federal subpoenas are public records, despite requests from prosecutors to keep them under wraps.
"Prosecutors frequently make the request in the subpoena that they keep the document confidential," Madigan spokeswoman Cara Smith said in an earlier interview. "Just because the subpoena makes a request for confidentiality doesn't mean it trumps FOIA."
Ottenhoff says similar requests for confidentiality are contained on subpoenas issued by Madigan's office. But Smith said the same disclosure rule applies to those.