The company hired to run the Illinois Lottery continued its fight to keep some documents under wraps, arguing their release would violate its contract with the state and expose company secrets to competitors.
At a hearing before the Illinois Court of Claims, Northstar Lottery Group argued today that lottery officials have no duty to release a marketing study and a business plan even though the Illinois Attorney General has advised the documents should be made public.
The firm asked the court — a quasi-judicial body of seven appointed judges who hear disputes involving the state — to issue a temporary restraining order and protective order barring the release of the records. Northstar Attorney Eric Macey argued the contract requires lottery officials to fight any effort to obtain confidential information supplied by Northstar.
"The state has made a covenant with us — an express promise — to do everything they can to protect (our) confidential information," Macey said. "What are they doing here? They're saying, 'We're releasing it voluntarily."
Assistant Attorney General Michael Schnitzer, representing the lottery, said the court doesn't have the authority to issue restraining orders or protective orders. The state's taxpayers have a right to review the company's operations and activities, he said.
"We're talking about two documents that were paid for by the people of Illinois," Schnitzer said, noting that the state pays the company millions for operational expenses. "The people want to — and have a right to — know what Northstar is doing with this money."
This is the second suit the company has filed to prevent disclosure of the documents, which were sought through separate requests under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act by the Chicago Tribune and Crain's Chicago Business. In March, a Cook County Circuit Court judge denied Northstar's petition for a temporary restraining order. Days later, the company filed the current suit with the Court of Claims.
On Monday, only four of the seven-member panel were present at the hearing in the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago. One judge was sick, while two others recused themselves.
Judge Mary Patricia Burns, a partner at the politically connected law firm Burke Burns & Pinelli, Ltd., was hired by Northstar last year to help resolve a financial dispute between the firm and the lottery, according to documents obtained by the Tribune.
In an e-mail to the newspaper, Burns declined to discuss her work with Northstar, but said she recused herself the day the suit was filed. Chief Judge Robert Sprague also recused himself because he is working with Macey on an unrelated case, said court administrator Brad Bucher.
The court did not rule Monday, but took the matter under advisement. It was unclear when a ruling might be released.
Northstar was chosen by Gov. Pat Quinn in 2010 to become the nation's first private manager of a state lottery and formally took control the following year. Since then, it has failed to meet revenue goals in the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years. Last month, a lottery official said the firm was on track to fall short of revenue targets for the third straight year.