JASPER CO., IL. (ECWd) -
Jasper County School Board Member Jed Earnest's lawsuit against the School District and certain board members was terminated in March of 2019 by the Federal Court in Granting the District's Motion to dismiss.
The Federal Court found, based on the evidence presented, Earnest was not deprived of a constitutional right, and was not deprived of due process.
Additionally, the Court stated:
"The only question this Court must answer is whether Earnest was deprived of a constitutionally protected interest and, if so, whether he was provided due process in connection with that deprivation."
"Earnest did not have a constitutionally protected right to confidential information, to be free of surreptitious efforts to remove him from the Board, or to be free from censure. Nor does he have a protected interest in feeling like he was treated fairly by other members of the Board. . . Indeed, none of those asserted rights are protected because they are not founded in state or federal positive law and are not freestanding substantive entitlements."
"No evidence suggests that anything other than limited confidential information about finances or about specific students and staff were withheld from him."
We obviously disagree with the second paragraph above, do to at least one case in Illinois (Ebert v. Thompson) declaring that board members did have a right to all records of the public body they served on, including any alleged confidential records.
Ebert v. Thompson:
"The plaintiff is an elected public official. Part of the duties of the plaintiff as an elected public official are to audit. As such, the elected public official is entitled to reasonable access to the books and records necessary to perform that function." The court then granted plaintiff's request for injunctive relief and ordered the records turned over to her. Defendants did not appeal this order."
By limiting confidential access to finances, and student and staff, Earnest could no longer perform his duty to audit the inner workings of the public body he was an elected member of.
But, we are not the Federal Court, and this Judge dismissed the case based on the evidence presented to him.
Additionally, this was a civil rights case, and not a records case.
Until there is substantial appellate or supreme court decisions on the issue of board member access to all records of a public body, or until the Legislature changes FOIA and/or the Local Records Act, we will continue to see this type of behavior (denying access to records) directed against political minority board members.