Salaita to appear in court in February

By Abigale Svoboda

Update (9:00 p.m.) — Campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler explained that although Steven Salaita had not received the emails he requested, Salaita was involved in ongoing conversation with the University’s lawyers.
The emails requested through the Illinois Freedom of Information Act were part of the continuing discussion and the University hoped to reach an agreement.
On Feb. 13, both sides will present motions that the judge will listen to. The motion hearing is in a very preliminary stage, Kaler said through email. 

Steven Salaita, whose appointment to the University’s American Indian Studies program was rejected in September, will appear for a motion hearing in February for a lawsuit against the University.

The lawsuit, filed with the Champaign County Circuit Court in November, claims the University failed to comply with the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, which requires public bodies to disclose specific records, unless the records fall under exemption.

The motion hearing will take place on Feb. 13 at 2:30 p.m. at the Champaign County Circuit Court, courtroom B, said Katie Blakeman, Champaign County circuit clerk. At the time the suit was filed, University spokesman Tom Hardy said the University would review the case carefully and defend its interests.

According to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, any party found in violation of the act is required to pay civil penalties of no less than $2,500 and no more than $5,000 per violation.

In November, Maria LaHood, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights and a representative of Salaita, said the suit is not regarding Salaita’s termination, but the requested documents Salaita requested on Sept. 17, six days after his appointment, was officially rejected by the Board of Trustees.

The University orally rejected his request, stating that it would require reviewing between 8,000 to 10,000 emails, according to the lawsuit Salaita filed.

When the University labeled the request “unduly burdensome,” Salaita downsized the parameters and submitted a new FOIA request on Nov. 5, 2014. When he received no response, he decided to file suit on Nov. 17, 2014.

The lawsuit asks the court to order the Board of Trustees to give Salaita the requested documents, to admit to violating the act, as well as award civil penalties, reasonable attorney fees and any other compensation the court deems appropriate.

Abigale can be reached at [email protected] 

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Steven Salaita would appear at a trial. Salaita will appear at a motion hearing, where both the University and Salaita will present motions. The Daily Illini regrets this error.