A panel of three judges ruled unanimously that the Anna Gazette Democrat had a right under the FOIA law to see the employment contracts of Southern Illinois University President Glen Poshard, former SIU president James Walker and SIU employees John Jackson and Mike Lawrence.
The decision, written by Justice Robert Steigmann, reversed a ruling by Sangamon County Circuit Judge Leo Zappa.
While there is an exemption for personnel files and information that would be an invasion of privacy, the appellate court said, another portion of the law is more important in this case.
That section says, "The disclosure of information that bears on the public duties of public employees and officials shall not be considered an invasion of personal privacy."
"Liberally construing the FOIA in accord with its intended purpose, we conclude that the statutory definition of 'public records' includes the information contained in the employment contracts at issue," Steigmann wrote.
"Contrary to defendants' (SIU) suggestion, the mere fact that personnel files are per se exempt from disclosure ... does not mean that the individual contracts are also per se exempt simply because they are kept in those files."