Chicago FOIA lawsuit payouts increased under Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Laaiba Mahmood
2 min readSep 18, 2020


Freedom of Information Act lawsuit payouts for the City of Chicago rose as the public sought greater transparency and access to records.

The city of Chicago saw an increase in FOIA lawsuit payout amounts between 2011 and 2016. The largest increase occurred between 2015 and 2016.

By Laaiba Mahmood

Under Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, FOIA-related lawsuits between 2015 and 2016 resulted in over a $600,000 rise in payout amounts to plaintiffs. According to the Chicago Tribune, the increase can be attributed to a few factors, including public desire for transparency by requesting public records and questions surrounding police incidents.

Out of the 27 lawsuits that resulted in payouts between 2015 and 2016, 19 were related to FOIA requests to the Chicago Police Department. Many of those who filed lawsuits during that time period alleged that the mayor’s office was violating public records transparency procedures.

According to a Chicagoist article, the largest payout amount was in relation to a request for the release of videos related to the Laquan McDonald shooting. The city paid nearly $100,000 to ensure it would not be released.

Karen Flax, the Tribune’s vice president for legal, mentioned her disappointment with the mayor’s office’s unwillingness to provide public records, forcing people to resort to lawsuits.

“The uptick in lawsuits reflects the city’s disregard for the importance of the open records law and the fact that the city is understaffed in this area,” Flax told the Tribune. “It is pay now or pay later: If the city would produce the records to which the public is entitled in the first place, we would not need to file lawsuits and incur legal fees which the city then needs to cover.”