Judge Rejects Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Attempt to Make Emails Exempt from Disclosure

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
Chicago, IL

Following in the footsteps of Hillary Clinton with an attempt to make sure neither prosecutors nor the public would see official emails, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel tried to tell a court that some of his emails are “exempt” from disclosure laws. A Cook County judge, however, rejected the Mayor’s notion.

Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff, insisted that he should not have to turn over emails from Freedom of Information requests if they were transmitted over private devices or from non-government sources. A Cook County judge, however, nixed the idea, saying Emanuel violated open records laws and that all communication about city business is fair game for FOIA requests, no matter what device or account they were sent from.

The ruling came as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Chicago Tribune which sought the emails. The paper’s suit also asked that the Mayor be declared in violation of the Open Records Act for deleting his emails from his private email services.

For his part, Emanuel insisted that being required to submit his personal, private email accounts to a records request is an “unprecedented and unreasonable invasion of personal privacy.” He also insisted the “alleged emails are not public records.”

Emanuel further insisted that the Open Records Act did not provide any means for officials to “force” government officers and employees “to grant … access to their privately owned accounts and devices” to FOIA requests.

However, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen M. Pantle rejected Emanuel’s contentions.

“There is no merit to defendants’ argument that the mere storage of communications pertaining to the transaction of public business on personal electronic devices (or in personal email accounts) categorically shields those communications from the FOIA,” the judge wrote in her decision.

Judge Pantle also noted that all communications must be considered “public record” and noted that just because an email account is not hosted by the government does not mean it is “ipso facto” a communication that is “personal in nature.”

The judge then gave Emanuel 28 days to turn over the requested documents.

“It’s wrong for a government official to claim that if they conduct business on one phone and email account it’s a public document, but if they use another phone or account to conduct the same business it is a private matter,” Tribune publisher and editor-in-chief Bruce Dold said on Friday. “We are committed to pursuing this case to the end.”

Mayor Emanuel’s claim that “private email” is not part of the public record echoes claims made by former Obama Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has repeatedly claimed she only deleted “personal communications” sent to her husband and daughter.

Critics, though, point out that there is no way to prove which emails Clinton deleted, and they note that with more than two thousand emails containing classified information already found on her illegal private server, there is no way to tell if she deleted thousands more among the deleted 30,000 emails she insisted were just personal in nature.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at igcolonel@hotmail.com.