Wednesday, July 21, 2010

UK researchers had no right to demand return of document distributed to focus group, AG rules

University of Kentucky researchers improperly refused to allow an audience member to keep material that had been handed out at a focus group session in Paducah, the state attorney general's office ruled last week.
The university was correct in refusing an open records request for the names of participants in a focus group conducted by the Kentucky Research Consortium for Energy and the Environment but did not have the right to insist on return of "visualizations" given out at a subsequent session, the decision said.

The consortium has been studying possible uses for the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, which enriches uranium. One member of the audience, Mark Donham, had refused to return a document he was given, a computerized "visualization" of the site as a nuclear power plant, one of the uses being considered. After an argument, university representatives threatened to call the police. Donham returned the material then filed an open records request.

The attorney general ruled that the researchers could legally refuse to identify the members of the focus group because they had been promised confidentiality, but there was no such promise regarding the handout materials. "Having afforded Mr. Donham the opportunity to inspect the visualizations, without enforceable restrictions on disclosure, he must be provided with copies of these records," the decision said.

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