When the place and time of a workers’ compensation hearing for a former Illinois state trooper was unexpectedly changed, some suspected that something shady had happened.
It turns out they were right.
E-mails obtained by the Belleville News-Democrat through the Illinois Freedom of Information Act showed that workers’ compensation arbitrator Jennifer Teague sought to keep the meeting secret.
The reason why: Former state trooper Matt Mitchell had plead guilty to reckless homicide after he was involved in a accident that killed 18-year-old Jessica Uhl and 13-year-old Kelli Uhl of Collinsville on Nov. 23, 2007. Authorities said he was driving at 126 mph, talking on his cell phone and e-mailing when the accident happened.
Mitchell later filed a workers’ compensation claim with the state.
“We are going to do it on the sly with no press,” Teague wrote in one e-mail.
“There is nothing I can do to keep them (reporters) out of a public hearing, but will be more than willing to do a special setting and an unknown place and time!” an e-mail addressed to Mitchell’s lawyer, Kerry O’Sullivan, said.
Workers’ compensation hearings are supposed to be open to the public.
“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,” Ann Spillane, chief of staff for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, told the News-Democrat.
“It’s going to take us a little time to absorb this and investigate it,” Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission Chairman Mitch Weisz said after being told of the incident.
The State of Illinois has been ordered to pay $8 million to the parents of the two girls that died as a result of the crash.