Champaign County judge sets court date for Salaita’s suit to obtain UI documents

By Daily Illini Staff Report

Champaign County Judge Thomas Difanis ruled he will hear testimonies on June 12 regarding a lawsuit between the University and Steven Salaita on the Freedom of Information Act, campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler confirmed.

Salaita filed suit against the University on Nov. 17, claiming the University failed to comply with the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. The act requires public bodies, such as the University, to disclose specific records, unless the records fall under exemption.

The suit requests that the court order the Board of Trustees to admit to violating the act, fulfill Salaita’s document request and award civil penalties, reasonable attorney fees and other compensation the court deems appropriate.

At the first hearing, held on Feb. 13, University representatives argued Salaita’s suit was invalid because the Center for Constitutional Rights submitted the first FOIA request. Associate Judge of Champaign county Chase Leonhard ruled against the University’s motion to dismiss but gave the University permission to strike unnecessary information from the suit, including information regarding Salaita’s rejected appointment. Leonhard said the lawsuit needed to stick to the FOIAs and not about his rescinded appointment.

Salaita was offered a position in the American Indian Studies department in October 2013. In August 2014, he received an email from Chancellor Phyllis Wise stating the Board of Trustees were unlikely to approve his appointment, after he posted tweets regarding the conflict in Gaza, Palestine.

Salaita requested documents regarding the rescindment of his employment on Sept. 17. The University responded to his request, stating the FOIA request was “unduly burdensome” and urged Salaita to narrow his request, according to the lawsuit. On Oct. 15, Salaita issued a new request, which asked for emails between 15 University officials over a three-month period.

The University again orally rejected the request, stating it would require reviewing between 8,000 to 10,000 emails. Salaita responded by requesting the FOIA again on Nov. 5, this time reducing the time frame to just over one month. However, he claims that he never received a response.

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