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Joseph M. Ferguson, Inspector General of the City of Chicago v. Stephen R. Patton

March 21, 2013

JOSEPH M. FERGUSON, INSPECTOR GENERAL OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO, APPELLEE,
v.
STEPHEN R. PATTON, CORPORATION COUNSEL OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO, APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Karmeier

JUSTICE KARMEIER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Freeman, Thomas, and Garman concurred in the judgment and opinion.

Justices Burke and Theis took no part in the decision.

OPINION

¶ 1 The issue in this case is whether the Inspector General of the City of Chicago may retain private counsel to bring an action in circuit court to compel the City of Chicago's Corporation Counsel to produce unredacted copies of documents sought by the Inspector General as part of an official investigation into municipal corruption.*fn1 The circuit court of Cook County answered that question in the negative, dismissing the Inspector General's action on the grounds that the Inspector General lacked authority to retain private counsel to bring suit and, in the alternative, because it agreed with the Corporation Counsel that the redacted documents were protected by the attorney-client privilege. The appellate court reversed and remanded, with one justice dissenting. 409 Ill. App. 3d 956. For the reasons that follow, we now reverse in part and vacate in part the appellate court's judgment and affirm in part and vacate in part the judgment of the circuit court.

¶ 2 BACKGROUND

¶ 3 The office of Inspector General of the City of Chicago is a municipal office created by chapter 2-56 of the Chicago Municipal Code (Chicago Municipal Code § 2-56-010 et seq. (added Oct. 4, 1989)). The Inspector General is appointed by the mayor of Chicago with approval of the city council for a four-year term. Chicago Municipal Code § 2-56-020 (added Oct. 4, 1989). Among the powers and duties of his office are:

"(a) To receive and register complaints and information concerning misconduct, inefficiency and waste within the city government;

(b) To investigate the performance of governmental officers, employees, functions and programs, either in response to complaint or on the inspector general's own initiative, in order to detect and prevent misconduct, inefficiency and waste within the programs and operations of the city government;

(c) To promote economy, efficiency, effectiveness and integrity in the administration of the programs and operations of the city government by reviewing programs, identifying any inefficiencies, waste and potential for misconduct therein, and recommending to the mayor and the city council policies and methods for the elimination of inefficiencies and waste, and the prevention of misconduct;

(d) To report to the mayor concerning results of investigations undertaken by the office of inspector general;

(e) To request information related to an investigation from any employee, officer, agent or licensee of the city;

(f) To conduct public hearings, at his discretion, in the course of an investigation hereunder;

(g) To administer oaths and to examine witnesses under oath;

(h) To issue subpoenas to compel the attendance of witnesses for purposes of examination and the production of documents and other items for inspection and/or duplication. Issuance of subpoenas shall be subject to the restrictions contained in Section 2-56-040; [and]

(i) To promulgate rules and regulations for the conduct of investigations and public hearings consistent with the requirements of due process of law and equal protection under the law." Chicago Municipal Code § 2-56-030 (added Oct. 4, 1989).

¶ 4 In accordance with subsection (b) of this ordinance, the Inspector

General initiated an investigation in January of 2007 regarding possible improprieties with respect to how a former City employee had been awarded a City contract without going through the normal competitive process. During the course of the investigation, the Inspector General submitted a written request to the City's law department (the Law Department) for all documents relevant to the awarding of the contract. The Inspector General's authority to make this request was based on section 2-56-030(e) of the Municipal Code (Chicago Municipal Code § 2-56-030(e) (added Oct. 4, 1989)), which we have just quoted, and has not been questioned.

¶ 5 Section 2-56-090 of the Municipal Code (Chicago Municipal

Code § 2-56-090 (added Oct. 4, 1989)), provides:

"It shall be the duty of every officer, employee, department, agency, contractor, subcontractor and licensee of the city, and every applicant for certification of eligibility for a city contract or program, to cooperate with the inspector general in any investigation or hearing undertaken pursuant to this chapter. Each department's premises, equipment, personnel, books, records and papers shall be made available as soon as practicable to the inspector general. Every city contract and every bid, proposal, application or solicitation for a city contract, and every application for certification ...


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