Saturday, February 19, 2011

Whitley judge-executive apologizes for keeping information about indicted sheriff from paper

The Whitley County judge-executive told The Times-Tribune of Corbin that he reprimanded employees in his office after finding that their response to an open-records request from the newspaper did not comply with the law.

The Times-Tribune sent Judge-Executive Pat White an open-records request on Jan. 26 "after the newspaper received what appeared to be a copy of a portion of a letter from the Kentucky Association of Counties to former Whitley County Sheriff Lawrence Hodge," Managing Editor Becky Killian writes. In the letter, the association asked to “review any correspondence, copies of claim forms or other documentation relating to a claim filed with KACO for legal representation” for Hodge, who lost his re-election bid and was indicted on 21 charges after an investigation (logo above) by the newspaper. The grand jury indictment accused Hodge of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funds.

"The letter asked White to contact the newspaper to arrange a time for the newspaper to review the documents," Killian reports. "White did not call and instead responded in writing with a letter that appears to bear his signature. He provided a copy of the Nov. 17 letter that again appeared to be only a partial copy of the document." Later, though, White allowed the newspaper to view and copy the documents.

Caroline Pieroni, a Kentucky Press Association attorney, told the paper that White's office had committed an “egregious violation of the Open Records Act” because public agencies are required to indicate when they have omitted or obscured information from a document and cite the Open Records Act exemption that they believe allows them to do so.

"White, who was informed of the Times-Tribune’s complaint on Wednesday, called later that day and said he had verbally reprimanded his staff for the violation," Killian reports. "He also apologized and said he would personally handle open records requests in the future." (Read more)

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