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Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013 05:04 am

City admits wrongdoing in FOIA case

Agrees that Calvin Christian is owed money

The city of Springfield has conceded that the city violated the state Freedom of Information Act by shredding a police internal affairs file concerning deputy chief Cliff Buscher, who was suspended and demoted in 2008 for firing his duty weapon while drunk during a fishing trip to Missouri.

The city in court papers filed today has acknowledged breaking the law by destroying Buscher’s file and says that Calvin Christian III, who had requested Buscher’s file and dozens of other internal affairs files that were destroyed, is entitled to $5,000 for the illegal destruction of the Buscher file. The city will continue to fight Christian, who has demanded more than $360,000 in civil penalties for the city's failure to produce other requested disciplinary files, an unknown number of which have apparently been destroyed.

“We continue to march on those,” said Jon Gray Noll, attorney for the city.

Noll said that the city has not agreed to pay any of Christian’s legal fees. Under state law, plaintiffs who prevail in FOIA cases are entitled to fees. However, there have been legal precedents barring the award of fees unless plaintiffs prevail on every point in a lawsuit and win a judgment as opposed to public bodies turning over records before a judge rules.

Don Craven, Christian’s attorney, said that the case isn’t over. Christian, he pointed out, demanded scores of files, not just the one on Buscher.

“How did they come to that conclusion – how do they come to that conclusion about the Buscher file and not the other 30 to 72 other files that were destroyed?” Craven asked. “Were they (the other files) unintentionally destroyed?”

Under the law, public bodies can reject FOIA requests that are deemed "unduly burdensome," and in court papers filed today, the city argues that Christian's request for the other files was unduly burdensome. Christian demanded every internal affairs file held by the city, according to court documents, and the city says that the 155 internal affairs files now held by the city amount to a stack of documents 13 feet high. It would take city employees 65 days at a cost of $20,000 to go through those documents to redact sensitive information and determine what what could be released, the city says in a motion filed today asking Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge John Belz to dismiss all of Christian's claims against the city except for the claim involving Buscher's file. Belz last month had rejected the city's plea to dismiss the case.

Craven said that his client is open to settling the case, but he did not want to talk about dollar amounts.

“I don’t settle cases in the media,” Craven said.

The case, Craven said, is about more than money, and so any settlement should include assurances that what happened with police internal affair files won’t happen again.

“It is fairly apparent to Mr. Christian and other folks who have filed FOIA requests that the method by which the city responds to FOIA requests should be revamped,” Craven said.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com

To read the city's request for dismissal, click here.

To read the city's concession of wrongdoing, click here.

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