Friday, January 28, 2011

Kentucky's biggest newspapers file lawsuit to obtain records concerning child's death

The Louisville Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader continue their fight to obtain Kentucky Department of Health and Family Services documents on the death of a 20-month-old boy who died after drinking drain cleaner at what authorities have described as an a meth lab in Wayne County. The newspapers contend the requested documents are subject to release under the state Open Records Act.

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd last month agreed with the newspapers and ordered the release of the records, which would shed light on the death of Kayden Branham, "who died after drinking drain cleaner at a home where it was allegedly being used to make methamphetamine," The Associated Press reported. At the time of his death, Branham and his 14-year-old mother were under state supervision.

Cabinet officials issued a statement justifying their decision to withhold the records was based on federal and state statutes that require it to keep some information confidential in cases of child deaths and serious injuries, according to the Courier-Journal's story. (Read it here)

Jon Fleischaker, who represents The Courier-Journal, said the cabinet is defying Judge Shepherd's order that the public has a right to such records in cases where children’s lives are at stake, according to the newspaper.

After Shepherd's ruling, the Department of Health and Family Services filed emergency regulations restricting release of information about children who have been killed or badly injured while being abused or neglected. The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Franklin Circuit Court, also asks the judge to overturn the emergency regulations on grounds that they do not meet the definition of a legitimate emergency and are being used instead to prevent release of the records. (Read more)

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