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12/31/97 PEOPLE EX REL. WILLIAM J. ULRICH v. JAMES

December 31, 1997

PEOPLE EX REL. WILLIAM J. ULRICH, SR., PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JAMES J. STUKEL, AS PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS; AND THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY. HONORABLE LESTER D. FOREMAN, JUDGE PRESIDING.

As Corrected January 5, 1998.

Presiding Justice Hoffman delivered the opinion of the court. Hartman and Theis, JJ., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hoffman

PRESIDING JUSTICE HOFFMAN delivered the opinion of the court:

The plaintiff filed the instant action seeking injunctive and/or declaratory relief under the Freedom of Information Act (hereinafter "FOIA" or "the Act")(5 ILCS 140/1 et seq. (West 1994)), alleging that he was entitled to certain records held by the defendants, the board of trustees of the University of Illinois, and James Stukel, the University president. The defendants initially declined to produce the requested documents claiming certain exemptions under the Act; however, prior to trial, they waived the exemptions previously claimed and produced the documents sought by the plaintiff. The trial court then entered an order dismissing the case as moot, and denying a request for attorney fees filed by the plaintiff under section 11(i) of the Act (5 ILCS 140/11(i) (West 1994)). The plaintiff appealed under our docket No. 1-97-0698.

Thereafter, the plaintiff filed a petition under section 2-1401 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code)(735 ILCS 5/2-1401 (West 1994)), alleging the existence of new facts warranting relief from the initial judgment. The court denied the relief requested by the plaintiff and the plaintiff again appealed, under docket No. 1-97-1729. We consolidated the two appeals. The plaintiff now contends that the court erred in (1) refusing to consider his FOIA claim under the "public interest" exception to the mootness doctrine; (2) denying him relief under Code section 2-1401; and (3) denying his request for attorney fees under section 11(i) of the Act.

The plaintiff's FOIA request arose from an underlying suit he filed as a taxpayer against the University of Illinois (hereinafter "University") and Bruce Bosmann, an associate dean of its College of Medicine. People ex rel. William J. Ulrich Sr. v. Bruce Bosmann, No. 94 CH 5855 (Cir. Ct. Cook Co.). The Bosmann case was initially dismissed, but this court reversed the dismissal and remanded the case for further proceedings ( People ex rel. William J. Ulrich, Sr. v. Bosmann, 279 Ill. App. 3d 36, 664 N.E.2d 119, 215 Ill. Dec. 722 (1996)). The Bosmann case alleged that two former professors at the University's medical school, with the approval of Bosmann and other University officials, illegally removed medical research equipment belonging to the State when they transferred to the University of Texas. According to the plaintiff, the conduct of the professors and University officials was violative of the Recovery of Fraudulently Obtained Public Funds Act (735 ILCS 5/20-101 et seq. (West 1992)).

While the Bosmann suit remained pending, the plaintiff submitted the FOIA request at issue, seeking the following:

"All University monthly accounting statements *** reflecting charges incurred in

connection with:

a. the disbursement vouchers reflecting payments to the law firm of Keck,

Mahin & Cate in connection with the suit generally known as [the Bosmann suit],

and any appeals thereof;

b. the disbursement vouchers reflecting payments to the law firm of Burditt &

Radzius, Chartered in connection with [the Bosmann suit], and any appeals

thereof; and

c. the disbursement vouchers reflecting payments to the law firm of

Siegan Barbakoff Gomberg & Kane, Ltd., in connection with [the Bosmann suit], and ...


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