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Illinois Parole Board Pays Nearly $11,000 in Attorney Fees, Can Only Charge Reasonable Postage and Copying Costs

On February 7, 2007, the Appellate Court of Illinois ruled that because the Illinois parole board had wrongfully withheld documents and charged outrageous fees for copies, it was liable for attorney fees and costs under the state?s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

In 2002 attorney Alan Mills requested copies of a client?s parole file from the Prisoner Review Board in preparation for an upcoming parole hearing. Rather than charge a reasonable fee for the copies, as required by state law, the Board sought to extort from Mills? client, William Callinan, an indigent state prisoner, a charge of $1.00 per page for each of the 500 pages requested. The Board calculated this fee based on the hourly rate of its chief legal counsel, who, it claimed, was the only person able to run the office copy machine.

What?s more, the Board insisted on calculating postage to mail the copies at $.37 per page, as though it was going to send each page separately instead of mailing the 500 pages in a single box at about one-hundredth the cost, which was what anybody else would do.

Callinan subsequently filed suit in Illinois circuit court claiming the Board had violated the FOIA, 5 ILCS 140/1 et. seq., by refusing to provide all of the requested documents and by charging excessive fees.
The 9th Judicial Circuit Court of Fulton County ordered the Board to charge no more than $35.10 to copy the 500 pages. The parties later agreed on a fee of $75 to copy the entire file.

In 2005 Callinan filed a motion requesting $10,979.81 in attorney fees and costs resulting from the lawsuit. The trial court denied the motion, holding that Callinan must prove malice, fraud, a willful lack of compliance with the FOIA or an egregious violation of the FOIA in order to recover fees. Callinan appealed.

The Appellate Court of Illinois, Third District, reversed and remanded, holding that nothing in section 11(i) of the FOIA required Callinan to meet such a burden of proof. The Court further noted that ?an award of attorney fees in this case furthers the purposes of the [FOIA] and its fee provision,? because ?[w]ithout the fee provision, plaintiff may have been unable to obtain counsel to require defendants to comply with the law.?

Mills is an attorney with the Uptown People?s Law Center in Chicago, Illinois. See: Callinan v. Prisoner Review Board, 371 Ill.App.3d 272, 862 N.E.2d 1165 (Ill.App. 3 Dist. 2007).

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Related legal case

Callinan v. Prisoner Review Board