BELLEVILLE , Ill. (CN) – A state arbitrator, who will decide whether a state trooper will get worker’s compensation after killing two sisters in a head-on crash while driving 126 mph and talking and texting on his cell phone, tried to keep public hearings of the case secret, according to emails between the arbitrator and attorneys.
The Belleville News Democrat obtained thousands of emails from Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission arbitrator Jennifer Teague through the Freedom of Information Act after getting a tip about a switched hearing date in the case.
Here are some of the emails released by the News Democrat:
“We are going to do it on the sly with no press,” Teague wrote in an email to a court reporter on Nov. 30.
“There is nothing I can do to keep them [News-Democrat reporters] out of a public hearing, but will be more than willing to do a special setting and an unknown place and time!” Teague wrote to the former trooper’s lawyer, Kerry O’Sullivan, on Oct. 18.
Assistant Attorney General Bill Schneider, who was representing the state’s taxpayers, suggested in a November reply an “off-docket trial of this matter to prevent or reduce media attention.”
Ann Spillane, chief of staff for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, told the News Democrat: “It is completely unacceptable for there to be any discussion to minimize press coverage or to thwart the public’s effort to attend a public hearing.”
Former Trooper Matt Mitchell is seeking compensation for injuries he received in the November 2007 wreck that killed Jessica Uhl, 18, and Kelli Uhl, 13.
Mitchell was driving 126 mph, emailing and talking on a cell phone when he lost control of his squad car, crossed a highway median and hit the girls the day after Thanksgiving.
Mitchell pleaded guilty to two counts of reckless homicide last year and received 30 months on probation. He has resigned.
The Illinois Court of Claims this year awarded the girls’ parents $8 million in damages against the state for Mitchell’s actions. It is the largest award against the state ever recorded.
Mitchell’s workers comp hearing was scheduled for Dec. 20 at a Belleville hearing site, but was pushed up to Dec. 17 and moved to another office without public notice.
Worker’s comp hearings are supposed to be open to the public.
Teague, O’Sullivan and Schneider are attorneys licensed in Illinois. As an arbitrator, Teague acts as a third-party neutral hearing officer and is bound by the same code of conduct as circuit court judges.
Schneider, who no longer works for the attorney general, did not notify his superiors of Teague’s efforts to keep the meeting private, the News Democrat reported. The attorney general’s office took the matter to its ethics officer and will decide whether to report the affair to the executive inspector general and the state Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, Spillane told the News Democrat.