The officer charged with ferreting out injustice in city government ultimately answers to the mayor when it comes to enforcing his subpoenas, the state’s highest court ruled this week, even when his investigation involves the mayor’s office.
Inspector General Joe Ferguson blasted the Illinois Supreme Court’s unanimous decision. “With today’s ruling,” he said in a statement, “the public and the City Council should now know that the Inspector General office has access only to the records and materials the mayor and his corporation counsel wish to make available, when they decide to make them available.”
The dispute stems from a probe of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley involving a no-bid contract given to a former Daley employee. In the course of its investigation, the inspector general’s office subpoenaed the Law Department of Daley’s office, and the Mayor’s lawyers invoked attorney-client privilege to withhold documents.
This week the court ruled not on the former Mayor’s use of attorney-client privilege, but on whether the inspector general’s office had the legal authority to enforce the subpoena in the first place. It did not, they ruled. From the ruling:
“Nothing (in city law) confers on the Inspector General the authority to file proceedings in circuit court to enforce any of the ordinances pertaining to his responsibilities… The power to file such proceedings belongs, instead, to the corporation counsel.”
For legal recourse, the judges suggested the office could appeal to the mayor to overrule his attorneys. Most subpoenas don’t end up in the city’s Law Department, the ruling noted, suggesting their ruling would have limited impact.
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