Court to hear newspapers

An Illinois federal appellate court has ruled that two state newspapers have a right to try and persuade a court that a settlement agreement between Lake Land College and one of its former vice presidents should not be sealed.

The ruling by the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit gives the Mattoon Journal Gazette and the Charleston Times-Courier another chance to argue to the district court that the information surrounding the settlement between the college and Goble Jessup, a former vice president and college treasurer, should be open to the public.

The Courier and the Gazette argued that because the settlement involved a public institution and a high-ranking officer of the college who claims he was improperly fired, the information concerning both the case and the settlement should not be kept secret. One of the specific provisions of the settlement was that the terms be confidential.

According to an article in the Mattoon Journal Gazette, Jessup was fired in April 1997 for refusing to fire another college employee.

Jessup originally sued the college for $1 million, claiming, among other allegations, that the college's board of trustees violated his four-year employment contract, which was not up until 1999.

With legal cases involving public entities often being resolved outside of court, the question of whether the resulting settlement agreements are open to public inspection is one of the hottest -- and more divisive -- issues in freedom of information law today.