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Steven A. Taliani v. Patrick J. Herrmann

August 19, 2011

STEVEN A. TALIANI,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE AND CROSS-APPELLANT,
v.
PATRICK J. HERRMANN, AS STATE'S ATTORNEY FOR BUREAU COUNTY, ILLINOIS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT AND CROSS-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 13th Judicial Circuit, Bureau County, Illinois, Circuit No. 07--MR--30 Honorable Eugene P. Daugherity, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Schmidt

JUSTICE SCHMIDT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Holdridge concurred in the judgment and opinion.

Justice Lytton dissented, with opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 In an action under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (the Act) (5 ILCS 140/1 et seq. (West 2008)), the trial court ordered the defendant, Patrick J. Herrmann, in his capacity as Bureau County State's Attorney, to provide the plaintiff, Steven A. Taliani, with transcripts of grand jury proceedings from Taliani's 1994 criminal case. Taliani then petitioned for an award of attorney fees pursuant to the Act. The petition included a request for fees for time spent by Taliani's attorney to prepare and argue the fee petition (commonly called "fees on fees"). The trial court awarded Taliani attorney fees in an amount less than he requested and denied his request for fees on fees. Herrmann appeals the award of attorney fees; Taliani cross-appeals the denial of his petition for fees on fees. We reverse and vacate the order granting Taliani attorney fees.

¶ 2 FACTS

¶ 3 Taliani is currently serving a 70-year sentence for murder and a 30-year sentence for aggravated battery with a firearm, both from convictions in 1994. In June 2007, he filed a pro se complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief under the Act. In his complaint, Taliani alleged that the Bureau County circuit court clerk denied his request for "a copy of Grand Jury Transcripts from the case of People v. Taliani, Case No. 94-CF-37." Taliani also stated that pursuant to section 10 of the Act (5 ILCS 140/10 (West 2008)), he appealed the clerk's denial to Herrmann. In response, Herrmann sent Taliani a letter which stated, in part, "That Grand Jury Transcript was provided to your attorney prior to trial. You should contact him to receive a Grand Jury Transcript if you do not have it."

¶ 4 Taliani then wrote a letter to his criminal trial lawyer asking for the grand jury transcripts. In a responsive pleading, Taliani stated that his criminal trial attorney failed to respond to his request for the transcripts. Subsequently, Herrmann sent Taliani a letter stating that he was denying Taliani's freedom of information request "[b]ecause the proceedings of the Grand Jury are conducted in secrecy, matters other than deliberations and the vote cannot be disclosed by the State's Attorney with only limited exceptions. The dissemination of Grand Jury proceedings is covered by 725 ILCS 5/112-6."

¶ 5 Robert Caplan entered his appearance as Taliani's counsel in the matter; Taliani filed a two-count amended complaint. In count II, Taliani named Herrmann, in his official capacity as Bureau County State's Attorney, as the defendant. Taliani asserted that Herrmann denied his request for the grand jury transcripts and attached the letter from Herrmann.

¶ 6 Herrmann filed a motion to dismiss count II of Herrmann's complaint. Taliani filed a response to Herrmann's motion and then a motion for judgment on the pleadings. The court denied Herrmann's motion to dismiss and granted Taliani's motion for judgment on the pleadings, ordering Herrmann to provide the grand jury transcripts to Taliani.

¶ 7 Taliani submitted a petition contending that under section 11(i) of the Act (5 ILCS 140/11(i) (West 2008)), he was entitled to attorney fees. In the petition, Taliani asserted that Caplan's hourly rate was $250. Taliani attached billing sheets from Caplan indicating that Caplan had worked on the matter for 85 hours and 8 minutes, for a total bill of $19,951.50. The billing sheets deducted $2,000 for work Caplan had done on count I of the complaint, for a final total request of $17,951.50.

¶ 8 The court held a hearing on Taliani's petition for attorney fees; at the beginning of the hearing, Taliani submitted a supplemental petition for attorney fees, seeking fees on fees for the time he spent preparing and litigating his original fee petition. Attorney Randolph Gordon testified as a witness for Taliani. Gordon opined that a $250 hourly rate was reasonable given Caplan's work on the case, his experience and what other judges in the circuit have approved as an hourly rate in civil cases. Caplan testified that a $250 hourly rate was reasonable based on his responsibility in the case, his many years of experience and the hourly rates for lawyers in civil matters in several of the surrounding counties.

¶ 9 At the conclusion of the hearing, the court reduced the total hours from 85.1 to 57.86. The court also reduced Caplan's hourly rate from $250 to $162.50, finding that $162.50 was a reasonable hourly rate in the area based on its experience. The court awarded Taliani fees of $9,361.62. The court refused to award Taliani any fees on fees requested in his supplemental petition.

¶ 10 Herrmann appeals the trial court's award of attorney fees to Taliani. Taliani cross-appeals the trial court's denial of the fees on fees.

¶ 11 ANALYSIS

ΒΆ 12 The Act requires public bodies make "available to any person for inspection or copying all public records, except as otherwise provided in Section 7 of this Act." 5 ILCS 140/3(a) (West 2008). Public records are broadly defined under the Act. 5 ILCS 140/2(c) (West 2008). Section 7 of the Act exempts certain records from its reach, notably, "[i]formation ...


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