Monday, October 5, 2009

Attorney general rules in favor of Winchester Sun in open records case

Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet cannot withhold the addresses of people receiving benefits under the Soil Erosion and Water Quality Cost-Share program, the state’s attorney general has ruled.

The ruling came in a case filed by Winchester Sun reporter Mike Wynn. Wynn had asked for the names and addresses of “all individuals, businesses, farming operations or similar entities in Clark County that have received funding in the last five years” from the state program.
The cabinet, a part of the Division of Conservation, gave Wynn most of the information but refused to release the addresses, citing “privacy concerns.”

The ruling, while recognizing that such information can sometimes be withheld from public disclosure, said such a decision must be made on a case-by-case basis, and no agency can make an overall rule. In this case, the ruling said, the public’s right to know whether the benefits were being granted properly to properly qualified farmers outweighed the recipients’ right to privacy.

“As the Kentucky Supreme Court emphasized, the ‘unambiguous purpose of the Open Records Act is the disclosure of public records even though such disclosure may cause inconvenience or embarrassment to public officials or others’,” the ruling said.

The attorney general’s office also ruled on several other cases involving prisoner requests for information. A brief summary follows. For full details, see Links of Interest below.

1. 09-ORD-158 (Lyon County)
The Kentucky State Penitentiary did not violate the Open Records Act in denying request because sufficient indicia exist to establish an "identity of purpose" between the requester and her inmate boyfriend. Because requester admittedly made request on his behalf after the penitentiary properly denied his request for the same records on the bases of KRS 197.025(1) and (2), providing her with access would undermine the purpose for which those provisions were enacted.

2. 09-ORD-159 (Franklin County)
Private attorneys are not public agencies within the meaning of KRS 61.870(1) to whom the Open Records Act applies. Accordingly, actions of private attorney relative to responding to former client's request cannot be said to have violated the act.

3. 09-ORD-160 (Franklin County)
The Department of Corrections was not required to permit on-site inspection of Probation and Parole records by an inmate confined in another location.

4. 09-ORD-163 (Lincoln County)
The Lincoln County Jail is not statutorily required to honor a request for information as opposed to a request for existing public records. Although the jail would generally be required to make any nonexempt records that might contain the information being sought available for inspection, the requester is precluded from exercising this option by virtue of his confinement in a state correctional facility.

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