Chicago Wants to Hide Airport Noise Records During Suit

SEPTEMBER 22, 1999

Chicago officials are asking that documents concerning the level of O'Hare International Airport noise affecting area schools be hidden from the public before the city complies with a DuPage County Circuit Court order to release them. Chicago has been sued to have the city provide soundproofing funds for Immaculate Conception Grade School and High School in Elmhurst.

The city's legal firm in the case, Laraia & Hubbard of Wheaton, filed a motion last week asking that the documents be declared proprietary business information. The matter is scheduled to be heard in DuPage County Court at 9 a.m. Thursday. The motion also requests that access to the documents be restricted to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Joliet, which is pressing the lawsuit on behalf of Immaculate Conception, and its attorneys. The diocese's attorney, Joseph Karaganis of Karaganis & White in Chicago, said his client intends to oppose the protective order.

Karaganis also represents the Suburban O'Hare Commission in its opposition to airport expansion. He has worked for former DuPage County State's Attorney Jim Ryan, now the Illinois attorney general, and current DuPage County State's Attorney Joseph Birkett in county-backed lawsuits against the city that forced Chicago to pay for soundproofing at other public and private schools.

"This attempt to seal off evidence from scrutiny by the public and members of the press is exactly the same strategy pursued unsuccessfully by the tobacco industry in seeking to hide evidence of their wrongdoing in the tobacco liability cases," Karaganis said. "For a publicly accountable governmental body such as the City of Chicago to be allowed to hide such evidence from public and media examination raises serious public policy questions," he said.

Last month, Circuit Judge James Jerz rejected Chicago's claim that airplane noise levels recorded at other area schools and the standards used to determine whether those schools qualified for soundproofing should not be considered when deciding whether the city should soundproof Immaculate Conception, Karaganis said.

Ten years ago, the city agreed to fund soundproofing for schools with airplane noise levels of 45 decibels or greater. According to Karaganis, Immaculate Conception regularly experiences noise levels of more than 45 decibels. "There's no sensitive business documents here," he said. "They're trying to hold back documents showing that Immaculate Conception was right all along. "This is their attempt to ensure that evidence that may show wrongdoing on their part can't be examined by the press."

Chicago Law Department spokeswoman Jennifer Hoyle said the motion is a routine request to keep private internal documents from becoming public record. "Most of these documents wouldn't normally be available to the public. Some are related to past settlements," she said. "We think this is a reasonable request, and we're prepared to argue that before the judge on Thursday."

Source: Chicago Tribune