Cook County State’s Attorney Breaks Settlement Agreement and Forces Lawsuit!

Despite commitments to work collaboratively from senior officials within Kim Foxx’s Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office our efforts have instead been stonewalled at every turn.

Just like the typical Cook County politician she is not interested in real transparency and true oversight.

Our previous lawsuit resulted in a settlement in 2017 in which Foxx’s senior staff promised unprecedented levels of cooperation and transparency. They committed to working with the Chicago Justice Project to make their felony prosecution data available to us moving forward and even offered to help us draft future requests.

In the subsequent years no such cooperation has been forthcoming – in fact all we have received are the same contrived denials that the Office has been issuing for years.

Nothing has changed.

The Office is now going to such lengths to hide their data they are now telling the Chicago Justice Project that they do not have any information within their files detailing our agreement. They also refuse to discuss the matter with two people within their Office that were in the room at the time the agreement was made and that they have acknowledged are still employed by the Office.

Our fight to bring transparency to the Office has entered its second decade!

As part of the settlement the Office turned over a dataset made up of 7 years of felony prosecution. Instead of obeying the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) they released the data in a proprietary format resulting in the Chicago Justice Project not being able to have confidence that the data was extracted appropriately. The FOIA law requires public bodies to release data in a format that is accessible as possible. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office told us their multi-million-dollar Microsoft database does not export in any other format.

Complete fiction!

In our discussions with the Office earlier this year Matthew Saniie, Chief Data Officer, stated that the Crimes database that stores their felony prosecution data is made up of 700 tables and 7,000 fields. This contrasts greatly with the 5 tables and 141 fields they make available on their website. Also, they admitted to us that they purposely removed fields identifying the prosecutors and police officers involved in each case before putting any data online. So much for being able to identify bad actors within the system.

Despite this fact they told the Chicago Justice Project we are going to have to live with what they make available on their website and that they are not under an obligation to make any more data available to the public.

For the data they released through FOIA they supplied – 453 tables or just 65% of the total tables they maintain – 5,220 fields or just 75% of the total tables they maintain. Of the fields they supplied 2,196 or 42% of those fields were empty. They have refused to answer why tables and fields were apparently purposely withheld and why such a high percentage of the fields they did supply are blank despite committing to working with Chicago Justice Project on this very issue in our settlement agreement.

Due to the absolute refusal to honor their obligations under Illinois’s Freedom of Information Act and for breaching our settlement agreement the Chicago Justice Project has filed a multi-count complaint in Cook County Circuit Court to force open the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office’s data once and for all.

Chicago Justice Project will be holding a press conference to announce the filing of our multi-count lawsuit in state court. Tracy Siska, Executive Director of the Chicago Justice Project and Michael Geller from the global law firm of DLA Piper will be available to answer your questions about the lawsuit. The press conference will be hosted through Zoom.

A robust timeline of our engagement with the SAO as well as a copy of the complaint and exhibits will be available on our website at this link which will go live @ 10:30am (CT) today.

Press Conference Details

Date:               Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020

Time:               10:30 AM

The press conference will be streamed live on the Chicago Justice Project’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Contact Information:

Tracy Siska

Cell Number:              (312) 617-1560

Email:                          tsiska@chicagojustice.org

www.chicagojustice.org

www.cpbinfocenter.org

Here is a video of our announcement

SAO’s Faux Transparency

While the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO) talks a big game when it comes to transparency, the data and their actions tell a different story. Our original lawsuit that was initiated under Anita Alverez was settled in early 2017 under Kim Foxx. Unfortunately, the SAO breached that agreement almost immediately and has even gone so far as refusing to acknowledge that any such agreement was ever entered into.

The data the SAO turned over to us was done so in a proprietary format. That is in violation of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. This resulted in CJP never being able to open the data with any confidence. Therefore, we were not confident the data was appropriately extracted thus the data they turned over to us was rendered useless. A clear violation of the law.

Despite the SAO’s best efforts we were able to analyze four independent sets of data that clearly demonstrate the massive disparity between the datasets. Those datasets include:

  • what the SAO told us about their Crimes database in pre-litigation meetings (SAO)
  • what they turned over to a third party through FOIA (FOIA)
  • what they turned over to CJP through discovery (Discovery)
  • what they make available on the Cook County Data Portal (Portal)

Chart A – Tables in each data set

As part of our settlement agreement, the SAO promised a totally new level of cooperation that would distinguish Foxx’s tenure from her predecessors. Unfortunately, when it comes to transparency and data manipulation, it seems like “the new boss is the same as the old boss”.

The disparities in the number of tables was not the only glaring disparity we found. The number of fields between the data sets was also massive.

Chart B – Fields in each data set

In the final settlement conference, the SAO said they would be happy to work with CJP to answer any questions we had about the data they were going to turn over to us.

They have never answered a single inquiry we made.

Unanswered Questions

If the SAO would have lived up to their promises, we would have asked the following questions.

Q1: Why were there so many tables missing between what they turned over to us through Discovery and the FOIA data?

Facts

# of tables in FOIA data but not discovery data: 87

# of tables in discovery data but not FOIA data: 84

The total number of tables missing b/t datasets: 171

Q2: Why are there so many empty tables in the FOIA data?

Facts:

# of Tables in FOIA data that are empty: 112

Q3: Why are there so many empty fields in the FOIA data?

Facts

# of empty fields in FOIA data: 2,195

Q4: The SAO told us their Crimes database contains 7,000 fields but they only turned over 5,220 fields through FOIA. Why are they withholding 1,780 or 34% of the fields?

Facts

The SAO never responded to our efforts to engage the office to find out why so many of the fields they turned over were empty.

Q5: Of the 5,220 fields in the FOIA data 2,195 or 42% are empty, why?

Facts

Hon. Judge Peter Flynn ordered the both parties to work together so that we could determine what fields should be withheld for privacy and what fields could be opened. He stated his desire that this litigation would result in an agreement that would prevent any need for future litigation. In court, both parties signed on to work together to figure out an agreement that would prevent future litigation. One aspect of that was ongoing engagement by the SAO to honor the agreement and answer inquiries about the data they are turning over. This never happened.

Q6: The SAO failed to turn over a data dictionary for the multi-million-dollar CRIMES database stating: “They don’t possess one.”

Facts

This is the same answer we received for years to our requests seeking copies of training documents. The SAO responded over and over again that they did not possess a single training document. Then suddenly in 2020 they miraculously located a 90-page training manual. No such miraculous discovery has yet produced the data dictionary.

Q7: Why did the SAO’s office turn over data in a proprietary format ultimately violating the Illinois Freedom of Information Act?

Facts

The SAO tells us their multi-million-dollar CRIMES database doesn’t export data in any other format despite this being contrary to the very essence of databases.

Q8: Why is the SAO telling us it is too hard to pull data from their database when this completely contradicts what the data technicians and employees – still working at the SAO told us in the final settlement conference as we were ironing out the agreement?

Facts

In the final settlement conference where the agreement was reached, data employees at the SAO’s office told us that while the initial pull of data would take some time to create, to code subsequent data pulls would be very easy and would not be burdensome at all.

Q9: Why is the SAO telling us there is no evidence of any such agreement being reached between their Office and CJP yet they admit they have never spoken to the two people from their data office who were in the meeting?

Facts

They have repeatedly told us there is no evidence of any settlement agreement being reached between us and their Office but they also admit to never speaking to the two people from their data office who are still employed by the Office and worked with CJP. For this to be true, the SAO’s Director of Policy, Research, and Development, SAO’s Freedom of Information Officer, and the lawyer handling the case (all three attended and participated in the final settlement conference) would all have to be negligent in their duties and did not made a single note about why the case was resolved.

Q10: When we requested felony prosecution data from 1990-2010 why did the Office lie to us and state they did not possess the data?

Facts

In per-litigation discussions, the SAO originally told us they did not possess the data and that it was now in the custody of the Cook County Bureau of Technology. When we told the SAO we would seek it from the Bureau, they came back to us and told us they did in fact possess the data as it was imported into the CRIMES database before the transfer of computer equipment took place.

Related Documents

CJP_Foxx_Lawsuit_Press_Release

SAO Data Sheet Unanswered Questions

Unanswered Questions

2020.10.21 FOIA Complaint v2 (Updated)

Exhibit A (Updated)

Exhibit B (Updated)

Exhibit C (Updated)

Exhibit D (Updated)

Exhibit E (Updated)

Exhibit F (Updated)

Exhibit G (Updated)

Exhibit H (Updated)

Exhibit I (Updated)

Exhibit J (Updated)

Exhibit K (Updated)

Exhibit L (Updated)

Exhibit M (Updated)

Exhibit N (Updated)

Exhibit O (Updated)

Exhibit P (Updated)

Author: Tracy Siska

Tracy Siska is the Founder and Executive Director of the Chicago Justice Project.

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