Sheriff’s Department Wins Effort to Keep Pagano Suicide Notes Secret

Eight media requests were apparently made to the McHenry County Sheriff’s Department for copies of the suicide notes that Metra Executive Director Phil Pagano wrote to members of his family.  Another was made by the Better Government Association.

Phil Pagano note to Metra. Click to enlarge.

The one to Metra was made public.

Sheriff’s Department FOI Officer Jan Weech refused to release the other documents based on Section 7(1)(c) of the Freedom of Information Act. That’s the one relating to the information being “personal information…the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy…”

The last term quoted above is defined as “the disclosure of information that is highly personal or objectionable to a reasonable person and which the subject’s right to privacy outweighs any legitimate public interest in obtaining the information.”

I could care less about most of the contents of the notes, but there are a couple of things about them I would like to see. I’m not ready to share all of that yet, but a time may come when I shall do so.

Of interest in the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor’s office’s letter affirming Weech’s turn down is the following:

“These letters contain Mr. Pagano’s last words to his family members and friends and are expressions of his feelings to these individuals. The letters also contain instructions to his wife for handing personal financial matters and other private family issues.”

Since Pagano took money that he was not entitled to, it seems to me that the public has a distinct interest in the information about the Pagano’s “personal financial matters.”

The hundreds of thousands of Metra dollars went somewhere.

The public has a right to see that it is returned.

If parts of the letters would aid in such recovery, I believe the public has a right to see them.

Others requesting to see the letters follow:

  • Kevin Craver, Northwest Herald
  • Charles Keeshan, Daily Herald
  • Richard Wronski, Chicago Tribune
  • Eric Siegel, WLS-TV
  • Bob Roberts, WBBM-Radio
  • Madeleine Martino Fox, WTTW-TV
  • Mary Wisniewski, Chicago Sun-Times
  • Bob Herguth, Better Government Association


Sheriff’s Department Wins Effort to Keep Pagano Suicide Notes Secret — 9 Comments

  1. How exactly does a person suffer embarrassment when he’s dead?

    It’s not legally possible to slander, libel or defame a dead person. I would argue it’s likewise not possible to invade a dead person’s privacy.

    Even if a dead person has a right to privacy, extending it to protect the presumed privacy rights of third parties (wife, family) goes far beyond what the FOIA law actually says. Perhaps doing that is a good idea but if it is, it’s a matter for the Legislature.

    Even assuming dead people and third parties have privacy rights, what prevents redacting the “highly personal or objectionable” information?

    That’s why they make Magic Markers.

    Extending protection that may apply to one section of a document to exempt the whole thing is clearly abusive.

    This is the second or third time I’ve seen FOIA exemptions based on a post-mortem right to privacy. Time for someone to litigate it.

  2. I’m glad to see that the Illinois Atty. General agreed with Weech.

    Since those notes are still part of the investigation, however far that may go, you don’t need to see them.

    I understand your thoughts on the missing money, but at SOME point you have to trust, if even a little bit, that the investigation will resolve some of your concerns.

    If AFTER the investigation your concerns aren’t resolved, THEN FOIA them.

    IF there is anything in them that may help YOU get the answers that the investigation didn’t resolve, MAYBE then they’ll be released.

    If not, then the Ill. Atty General, and Nygren’s office, were correct in refusing your FOIA. Then, any further attacks on MCSO can halt, because your Ill. Atty General also said No.

  3. The Sheriff’s Department’s investigation is over, AZ Supporter.

    The loss of Metra’s money was not part of that investigation, according to the office’s reports, all of which were published on McHenry County Blog.

  4. MCSO had no part of the missing money investigation. The Al Jourdan phone call brought them into the house after the suicide. Is that significant? Only time will tell…

  5. Cal, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt about the sheriff’s ivestigation of the death is over.

    However, there IS a chance that the investigation of the missing money still isn’t over, and, if your whole post is correct, then the notes could have some information about the money, and they would still be part of whomever is investigating that. In that case, the investigating authority may have asked the sheriff’s office not to release the notes just yet.

    And Pete, I’m afraid that you’ll have to take up your point with the State Attorney General’s office regarding what is and isn’t private information. I agree that they could redact the information, but then SOMEONE would want an investigation of what they thought was removed that they could think was relevant. It’s a “No Win” Catch 55.

  6. I think if you take a good look at the IL FOIA, you will find that redaction is REQUIRED. I can see the intent was to “protect” highly personal information but an address? published phone number? age? sex? Yeah, I’ve seen those items redacted. That is abusive. SSAN? Fine. Medical information? Sure.

    In many areas of IL, particularly in McHenry County, the IL FOIA is viewed as the “Official Secrets Act.” This needs to stop. It would be interesting to see what the IL AG says about redaction of age and addresses and locations of an incident.

  7. I would think if you wanted to foia the note from the perspective of how it relates to the missing money, then you should foia those investigating the missing money…

    Just seems a bit silly to request it from an agency not involved in the investigation on the missing money…

  8. The Sheriff’s Department has copies of the notes. That’s why I directed my inquiry there.

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