Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Judge urges governor to side with openness, says appeal of other judge's ruling is to protect cabinet

A veteran Kentucky circuit court judge has taken issue with Gov. Steve Beshear's recent opinion piece published in a number of Kentucky newspapers that defended his administration's appeal of a court decision that ordered some child abuse records be open to the public.

Judge Tyler Gill, circuit judge in Todd and Logan counties for 17 years, disputes some of the governor's contentions in a column published in The Courier-Journal today. He concludes after his years on the bench that openness and accountability are the better policies.

"Openness should always be the rule where government is involved and secrecy the rare and carefully considered exception to that rule," Gill writes. "I have come to believe that secrecy in courts of law should be eliminated in every adversarial action initiated by any agency of the state. Non-adversarial actions, such as private uncontested adoptions or adoptions after parental rights have previously been terminated, should remain confidential.

He was critical of the governor's support of the state's appeal of a Franklin Circuit Court decision ordering the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to release with minimal redacted information its records of children who died or nearly died while under protection of the cabinet.

"I have also come to believe that confidentiality imposed by our statutes is more often used to hide state incompetence or misconduct than to protect the citizens of Kentucky. Do not be misled. The cabinet’s appeal of the Franklin Circuit Court ruling is not a high-minded effort to protect the privacy of persons who report child abuse. It is to protect the cabinet."

Gill also cited a case he presided over in 2008 in which he said a lawyer for the cabinet was working against the interests of a patient committed to its care. He argued that openness was the only way to make the cabinet accountable for its actions.

"While we can always find some downside to open government, the consequences of government secrecy are far worse. We need only look to the courts and governments of totalitarian regimes such as China, North Korea, Iran or Cuba for this lesson."

He ended by urging the governor to work to open records and not close them. "The governor concluded his article by saying that he would continue to battle in court alongside the cabinet and its lawyers. I urge Gov. Beshear to stop listening to the cabinet’s lawyers and to start battling for the people of Kentucky. Our children deserve an open and accountable government."

Read his full column here.

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