Kentucky cabinet penalized $756,000 for ‘willfully circumventing’ child-abuse open records ruling

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Kentucky cabinet penalized $756,000 for ‘willfully circumventing’ child-abuse open records ruling

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd said the cabinet made a “mockery” of Kentucky’s Open Records Act by maintaining that documents — including dozens already in the public domain, such as reports that contain the identities of convicted child abusers — remain confidential.

His 56-page ruling orders the cabinet to pay statutory penalties and produce information it has withheld, arguing that the cabinet has demonstrated an unwillingness to comply with the law without “significant” court sanctions. The plaintiffs — The Courier-Journal and Lexington Herald-Leader — are also allowed to seek attorney fees.

The files are subject to open records law “to ensure both the cabinet and the public do everything possible to prevent the repeat of such tragedies in the future,” Shepherd wrote. “There can be no effective prevention when there is no public examination of the underlying facts.”

Courier-Journal Special Report: Children in Crisis

For nearly three years, The Courier-Journal and Herald-Leader have battled to obtain cases files in which children who were being monitored by the state died or nearly died from abuse or neglect.

The Courier-Journal requested the records to examine how state social services workers were handling those cases in the wake of reports that showed roughly 30 Kentucky children die each year of abuse and neglect, ranking the state among the highest in the nation in its rate of deaths.

Courier-Journal lawyer Jon Fleischaker called Monday’s order a “tremendous victory” and predicted that the combined attorney fees for both newspapers will exceed $200,000. He said the damages will likely be divided between the two newspapers.

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd said the cabinet made a “mockery” of Kentucky’s Open Records Act by maintaining that documents — including dozens already in the public domain, such as reports that contain the identities of convicted child abusers — remain confidential.

His 56-page ruling orders the cabinet to pay statutory penalties and produce information it has withheld, arguing that the cabinet has demonstrated an unwillingness to comply with the law without “significant” court sanctions. The plaintiffs — The Courier-Journal and Lexington Herald-Leader — are also allowed to seek attorney fees.

The files are subject to open records law “to ensure both the cabinet and the public do everything possible to prevent the repeat of such tragedies in the future,” Shepherd wrote. “There can be no effective prevention when there is no public examination of the underlying facts.”

Courier-Journal Special Report: Children in Crisis

For nearly three years, The Courier-Journal and Herald-Leader have battled to obtain cases files in which children who were being monitored by the state died or nearly died from abuse or neglect.

The Courier-Journal requested the records to examine how state social services workers were handling those cases in the wake of reports that showed roughly 30 Kentucky children die each year of abuse and neglect, ranking the state among the highest in the nation in its rate of deaths.

Courier-Journal lawyer Jon Fleischaker called Monday’s order a “tremendous victory” and predicted that the combined attorney fees for both newspapers will exceed $200,000. He said the damages will likely be divided between the two newspapers. 

By | 2015-04-29T14:49:31+00:00 December 27th, 2013|News|0 Comments