Friday, August 28, 2009

Herald-Leader calls on Minton and Supreme Court to deliver on promises of openness

Despite pledges from Kentucky’s chief justice to shed more light on the process of building judicial facilities, the Lexington Herald-Leader says it’s “past time” for John Minton's promises to become reality.

“It's been almost a year since the Herald-Leader began chronicling the astounding building campaign of the Administrative Office of the Courts,” the newspaper said in an editorial over the weekend. “Cloaked in secrecy, riven with conflicts of interest, devoid of competitive bidding, the program has blasted through dozens of historic downtowns and almost a billion taxpayer dollars and is still going.”

The paper notes that Minton inherited the system from retired Chief Justice Joseph Lambert, and "has taken positive steps to protect both the integrity of the state's court system and tax dollars. ... But some of the changes Minton announced last October to ‘shore up public confidence’ have not yet materialized. It's past time for them to become reality.” Minton told the KOG Blog earlier this year that opening up the court construction program was one of his goals in a general review he has ordered of the degree of transparency in the Kentucky court system. He declined to comment on the Herald-Leader’s editorial.

“The most critical [change needed] is opening up AOC's work to public view, and scrutiny,” the paper wrote. “The records of the court system and the AOC have been closed since 1978 when the Supreme Court ruled that they weren't subject to the state open records law. This is a puzzlement. Our system depends upon the integrity of the courts. And nothing encourages integrity like open records.”

The paper said the lack of transparency leads to a “queasiness,” explaining: “First, we're talking about our courts. If they aren't honest and open, is there any hope for clean government in the two other branches? Second, there is a ton of money on the table here. Human nature and Kentucky's long, corrupt history tell us that public money combined with secret dealings is a combustible mixture that yields no good. ... The Supreme Court can undo what it did in 1978. Open the books. Open the process. Restore confidence.”

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