956 F.2d 647 (7th Cir. 1992), 90-1838, Smith v. United States Dist. Court for Southern Dist. of Illinois

Docket Nº:90-1838.
Citation:956 F.2d 647
Party Name:Thomas W. SMITH, Jr., Petitioner-Appellant, v. UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR the SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS, A. Marvin Helart, Court Clerk, Honorable James L. Foreman, Chief Judge, et al., Respondents-Appellees.
Case Date:February 07, 1992
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
 
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Page 647

956 F.2d 647 (7th Cir. 1992)

Thomas W. SMITH, Jr., Petitioner-Appellant,

v.

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR the SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF

ILLINOIS, A. Marvin Helart, Court Clerk, Honorable

James L. Foreman, Chief Judge, et al.,

Respondents-Appellees.

No. 90-1838.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

February 7, 1992

Argued Dec. 10, 1991.

As Corrected March 23, 1992.

Page 648

Carol Doyle, Sidley & Austin, Chicago, Ill. (argued), for petitioner-appellant.

William E. Coonan, Asst. U.S. Atty., Office of U.S. Atty., Civ. Div., Fairview Heights, Ill. (argued), for respondents-appellees.

Before BAUER, Chief Judge, CUDAHY, Circuit Judge, and WILL, Senior District Judge. [*]

WILL, Senior District Judge.

Thomas Smith was sitting in a federal courtroom in the Southern District of Illinois on August 27, 1987 when he heard Magistrate Cohn deny a request by the Illinois Attorney General's Office for an extension of time in a prisoner civil right's case. In denying the extension, the magistrate quoted from a memorandum which included statistics on the number of times the state had requested and received extensions in such cases and which recommended denying such requests in the future. The memo had been sent by the Clerk of the Court to all of the judges in the district.

Smith requested a copy of that memorandum from the Clerk of Court, in a short letter headed "FOIA Request." When the Clerk of Court denied the request on the ground that the Freedom of Information Act does not apply to the courts, Smith filed an appeal with the clerk. In his memorandum of law supporting the appeal Smith quoted from several cases on public access to court records to support his request, in addition to arguing that the Clerk of Court had interpreted the FOIA incorrectly.

Receiving no response to his appeal to the clerk, Smith filed a petition titled "Writ of mandamus for disclosure of public records," explicitly basing the action on the All Writs Act, as well as the FOIA and the

Page 649

Mandamus Act. He requested an injunction prohibiting the clerk from withholding the document. The case was transferred to the Central District where his motion was denied, without any response from respondents or any hearing, on the grounds that the FOIA does not cover courts. The District Court did not address the common law right of access arguments made by petitioner. Smith appealed on the common law claim, but has dropped the FOIA issue. 1

I. Jurisdiction

Respondents claim in their jurisdictional statement that the District Court lacked jurisdiction because of petitioner's failure to exhaust administrative remedies on the common law issue and failure to raise properly the common law issue. In their brief they argue that the mandamus was properly denied on those grounds, but they do not explain why the possibility that the petitioner might lose on the merits meant that the District Court was without...

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