Thursday, June 2, 2011

Federal judge rules for newspapers, returns fight over child death records to state court

A federal judge has ruled against the Cabinet for Health and Family Services in its continuing battle with two Kentucky newspapers over the cabinet's records of child abuse deaths and injuries.

U.S. District Judge Danny Reeves issued his order June 1 remanding the lawsuit to state court, where The Louisville Courier-Journal and The Lexington Herald-Leader had filed it. The cabinet had filed a motion to move the case moved to federal court.

At stake is access to records Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd has already declared are public records.

In May 2010, Judge Shepherd ruled that the state Open Records Act did not allow the cabinet to shield from the public its records of the death of a child who was under the supervision of the cabinet. The case involved the death of a Somerset toddler who drank drain cleaner. He and his mother, then 14, were both under the supervision of the cabinet.

After Shepherd's ruling, the newspapers sought cabinet records involving other deaths. When the cabinet denied their requests, the newspapers filed suit in Franklin Circuit Court. The cabinet issued emergency regulations that would limit what records the state would have to make public and then filed a motion to move the case to federal court.

Judge Reeves, however, denied the cabinet's motion and returned the case to Judge Shepherd. "The Franklin Circuit Court aptly defined the contours of the Open Records Act as it relates to child protection cases," the order said, then quoted from Judge Shepherd's 2010 decision: “Under the Kentucky Open Records Act, the public records related to the death of a child under the protection of the state foster care system are open to public inspection."

The newspapers will file a motion asking Judge Shepherd to order the cabinet to release the records. (Read more)

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