Sunday, December 29, 2013

C-J says Beshear must set health-and-family cabinet right on child-abuse records, following judge's order

The Courier-Journal published a remarkable editorial Sunday excoriating the Cabinet for Health and Family Services for the high level of secrecy in which it has enveloped cases of children who were killed or nearly killed while its caseworkers were supposed to see that they were protected from harm. Last week a judge ordered the cabinet to pay nearly $1 million in civil penalties and attorneys' fees to the newspapers that have been seeking the records. Rather than excerpt the editorial, we publish it in full, along with photographs of the officials it holds responsible. For larger versions, click on the images.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Appeals court upholds award of attorney fees to reporter, citing city's repeated 'false denials'

The Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled today that the City of Owensboro must pay the legal fees of a newspaper reporter to whom it refused to give copies of complaint forms about the police department's public-information officer.

James Mayse of the Messenger-Inquirer sought records involving Marian Cosgrove, who resigned her job in November 2011 after coming under investigation by the department. He asked for any documents related to any complaint about her, and the city repeatedly said it had no records that would be responsive to his requests.

Mayse appealed to Attorney General Jack Conway, whose office asked for and got the investigative files from the city. Conway ruled that the city must release the initial complaint forms in the file because they are not exempt from the state Open Records Act. The city appealed to Daviess Circuit Court, where Judge Jay Wethington ruled for Mayse. He said the city's denials were "willfully defiant" of the intent of the law and done in "bad faith," so the city should pay Mayse's legal fees.

The city appealed, but gave Mayse the two Professional Standards Complaint Forms, so the appeals court dismissed that part of city's appeal. In granting Mayse attorney fees, the three-judge panel wrote, "The City's response, on three separate occasions, that no record responsive to Mayse's requests for complaints is problematic given the egis of the Open Records Act. In fact, there were two documents labeled "Professional Standards Complaint Forms" in Cosgrove's file from the inception of Mayse's requests. When the attorney general asked repeatedly about the existence of 'any other document,' the city also denied the existence of such documents to the OAG. The circuit court found the city's explanation that the information was incorrectly put on a complaint form and labeled 'internal' was not persuasive and defied the statutory intent of the Open Records Act. In essence, the City repeatedly made false denials of the existence of any complaints regarding Cosgrove." The decision is here.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Ky. high court says police can't just dismiss records requests using prospective-action exemption

The Supreme Court of Kentucky ruled today that law enforcement records are subject to open-records requests even if there is a "prospective law enforcement action," and that to withhold records for that reason, a law-enforcement agency must prove that a premature release of the them would hurt its prospective action.

The state's highest court ruled in a case brought by The Kentucky Enquirer, which wants the investigative file about a murder to which the victim's widow pleaded guilty in 2009 but is now seeking a new trial, alleging she had ineffective counsel. The Gannett Co. newspaper, an edition of The Cincinnati Enquirer, has been seeking the file since the case concluded.

The ruling "is a big step forward for us," Kentucky Press Association counsel Jon Fleischaker told the newspaper organization, which supported the Enquirer's efforts. "The court handed down some guidelines for proof in an open-records case which will be very helpful to us, especially in cases like the pending action against the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Finally, there is very useful language regarding the imposition of attorney’s fees and the circumstances under which the award of attorney’s fees is appropriate.  Those guidelines will be useful for all of us." For Fleischaker's note and a copy of the decision, click here.

The court "found that although the municipality’s response to The Enquirer request for records was inadequate, it has not been shown to have willfully violated the law, and so does not provide a basis for sanctions," Jim Hannah writes for the newspaper. "The Enquirer had asked that the municipality pay its legal bills in the case. Fort Thomas was ordered to make a good faith effort to identify those records responsive to The Enquirer’s request and either provide them to the newspaper or explain with why, under the law, they are exempt. A Campbell Circuit Court judge would then be asked to review what the city claimed was exempt to ensure the law was being followed." (Read more)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Illegal meetings held by Danville commission, court says; and by Murray regents, attorney general says

"Two rulings came this week — one in circuit court, one by the attorney general — that public agencies have violated the state’s open meetings law," David Thompson writes in his weekly missive as executive director of the Kentucky Press Association.

"In Boyle Circuit Court, a judge ruled Thursday that the Danville City Commission held an illegal session and in the much-publicized Murray State University situation, an AG’s ruling on Wednesday said the Board of Regents violated the law by discussing the MSU president’s situation the night before the board’s official meeting."

Thompson's post has a short story from Todd Kleffman of The Advocate-Messenger and draws from a story in The Paducah Sun distributed by The Associated Press. To read it, click here.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

AG says UK should release records on pediatric heart surgery program, which is under review

Attorney General Jack Conway has ruled that the University of Kentucky hospital violated the state Open Records Act by refusing to give a reporter for the university-owned radio station records relating to the work of the chief of cardiothoracic surgery, who has stopped doing surgery on children. UK refused to let Conway's staff examine the records to evaluate UK's claimed need for confidentiality.

After inquiries by Brenna Angel of WUKY, "UK announced that the hospital had stopped performing pediatric cardiothoracic surgeries pending an internal review," John Cheves writes for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Angel reports that she sought records on Dr. Mark Plunkett, left, who was also director of the pediatric and congenital heart program: "the date of Plunkett’s last surgery, the mortality rate of pediatric heart surgery cases, and documentation related to the program’s review." She sought no patient-specific data.

UK denied her request, citing the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and arguing that release of the information could lead to the identification of one or more patients because Plunkett was doing so few surgeries on children. It also cited HIPAA in refusing to let Conway's staff review the records. Conway rejected that argument, noting that HIPAA does not supersede state laws and even make allowances for them.

Because it deals with the Open Records Act, Conway's decision has the force of law. UK can appeal the decision to circuit court within 30 days of March 27, the date of the decision. "UK spokesman Jay Blanton says officials are considering whether to file an appeal," Angel reports. The decision was publicly released Monday, the same day UK held a press conference about "the progress UK Healthcare has made in cardiology," she notes. "Yet the pediatric cardiothoracic surgery program remains under review, and patients from Central and Eastern Kentucky are being referred to hospitals out of state. Dr. Mark Plunkett remains on staff."

When Angel asked Dr. Michael Karpf, UK's executive vice president for health affairs, to comment, he replied, “We’ll have something to say about that in a little while.” Cheves notes, "UK recruited Plunkett, a noted surgeon at the University of California at Los Angeles, in 2007 to strengthen its pediatric heart program. He makes $700,000 a year, one of the highest salaries at UK." (Read more)

Read more here:

Read more here

Monday, March 4, 2013

Lawyer Kim Greene wins UK's James Madison Award for service to the First Amendment

Kim Greene, who was one of Kentucky's leading First Amendment lawyers, received the James Madison Award tonight from the Scripps Howard First Amendment Center in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky. The center presents the award for outstanding service to the First Amendment by someone with ties to Kentucky.

Greene, of Louisville, was instrumental in starting the Freedom of Information Hotline for the Kentucky Press Association in 1986. It remains the only such free hotline for newspapers in the U.S. In 1996 she helped start KPA's Legal Defense Fund Hotline. She was named KPA's most valuable member in 2001.

Greene represented many Kentucky newsrooms. Max Heath, who was executive editor of Landmark Community Newspapers, said in his nomination that she was "a velvet hammer" as an attorney, always smooth and professional but firm in her advocacy. She won the First Prize from the Louisville Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in 2005 for her First Amendment work.

Greene, a native of Ashland, told the crowd at UK's Young Library Auditorium that she fell in love with the First Amendment when she was in law school, then with journalists who used it to serve the public. "The First Amendment is just that special ingredient that makes our country so different from all others," she said.

Greene told the student journalists in the audience, "there's hardly any more important work in our country that you could be doing." She is married to First Amendment lawyer Jon Fleischaker, won won the Madison Award several years ago.

Grayson, left, speaks with UK accounting
senior Aleksey Graboviy after his speech.
(Kentucky Kernel photo by Tessa Lighty)
The award was presented at the center's annual Celebration of the First Amendment. The annual "State of the First Amendment" address was given by Trey Grayson, director of the Institute on Politics in the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and Kentucky's secretary of state from 2004 to 2011.

Grayson spoke on occasional conflicts of the First Amendment with the right to vote, as seen in news-media coverage of voting and the ubiquity of cameras, which pose threats to the privacy of voting, and Kentucky's law on electioneering near voting places, passed after a federal appeals court struck down a ban on electioneering within 500 feet of the polls, with an exception for private property. Current law sets a 300-foot limit with no private-property exception, and "That strikes me as still being a little broad," Grayson said.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Get ready for Sunshine Week, March 10-16

Sunshine Week, the annual observance to promote dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information, is set for March 10-16. It's always the week of March 16, the birthday of James Madison, father of the First Amendment.

Sunshine Week is driven by journalists, but it seeks to enlighten and empower all Americans to play an active role in their government at all levels, and to give them access to information that makes their lives better and their communities stronger. Participants include news media, government officials, schools and universities, libraries and archives, non-profit and civic organizations, historians and individuals with an interest in open government.

The American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, chief sponsors of the event, have laid nationwide plans for events, special stories and release of freedom-of-information studies. With a continuing endowment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and a 2013 donation from Bloomberg LP, the groups produce useful materials for participants and keep the Sunshine Week website and social media sites engaged.

"Our ongoing mission is to ensure that government at all levels remains transparent for the public and for reporters in all platforms,"  said Reporters Committee Chair Tony Mauro, Supreme Court correspondent for the National Law Journal. "This is a great opportunity to engage many different partners in open government education and discussions."

The National Newspaper Association is one of several co-sponsors. “The importance of open government cannot be understated,” said Deb McCaslin, chair of NNA’s Government Relations Committee. “Community newspapers are on the front lines in their towns, covering their chambers of commerce and school board meetings and keeping their readers informed about what is going on at the local level. These publications make a very real difference in the lives of the people in their communities. Without these newspapers keeping their local governments accountable, democracy would falter.”

Other particpants include the American Library Association, The Associated Press, The Cato Institute; the Center for Effective Government (formerly OMB Watch); the Center for Responsive Politics; the Inland Press Association; the New England First Amendment Coalition; the Radio Television Digital News Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. (Read more)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Burnside violated Open Records Act, AG says

The City of Burnside, in Pulaski County, violated the Open Records Act when it did not respond in writing to a proper request to City Council Member Frank DeNiro’s request for public records, according to the attorney general’s decision on the matter.

DeNiro requested to “’view the most current Burnside water plant plans - drawings and water lines,’” on April 4, 2012, according to the decision.

DeNiro asked Burnside Mayor Ron Jones to see the city’s water plant plans, and with no definite response, filed an open records request, according to his account of the process, which was mentioned in the attorney general’s decision.

He said he later asked to receive a written response and was told the mayor had made an inquiry to the Kentucky League of Cities. DeNiro said he then received an email that stated he could not see the plans because of Homeland Security issues.

According to email exchanges provided by DeNiro sent between Jones and workers at the KLC, the mayor was advised that the city would “have to give a detailed explanation of ‘reasonable likelihood of threatening the public safety by exposing a vulnerability,’ if they plan to deny these records.”

KLC Legal Services Analyst Kim Johnson also advised the mayor that denying records on those grounds would be difficult, too, because the requester was a city council member.

The attorney general’s office received DeNiro’s appeal on Dec. 4, and Burnside City Attorney D. Bruce Orwin responded to the appeal.

“‘The mayor of the City of Burnside informs me that neither the City of Burnside nor any of its departments have copies of these plans for the records requested by Mr. DeNiro,’” according to the Orwin’s response as stated in the attorney general’s decision.

Orwin said that the mayor said should the records be deemed acceptable for release that he would request the plans remain in city offices, with no photocopies or photos of the plans being permitted because of security concerns.

“We find that the City of Burnside failed to meet its first obligation under the Open Records Act, which is to give a timely written response to a written request to view public records,” according to the decision.

By failing to respond in writing, the city of Burnside also committed a procedural error. And, since the city misrepresented the advice it received from the KLC, the city’s conduct was seen as “a substantive denial of inspection.”

“At no time did the City either make the required written response or justify the withholding of any records under a specific provision of” Kentucky state law, according to the decision.

The attorney general’s office stated that it did not have enough information to say why Burnside would not be in possession of the records and referred the matter to the Department of Libraries and Archives to take action should it be deemed appropriate.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

AG says broad request for emails doesn't have to be fulfilled for six months

The Boone County clerk can make a man who requested almost a quarter of a million emails wait six months to get the records, Attorney General Jack Conway said in an open-records decision released today.

On Nov. 19, 2012, attorney Paul Croushore requested emails sent from or to 10 individuals, and containing any of 69 terms, during 2011. The clerk's office told him he would have to wait six months, "given the broad scope of the request and the necessity of reviewing each of the estimated 50,000 responsive emails to redact protected information," unless he wanted to reduce the number of search terms, while reserving the right to add more later, the decision says.

Croushore appealed to Conway's office, which cited a decision this year in a case involving the Campbell County Library. It also noted that the decision urged records requesters to "frame their requests as narrowly as possible and, if unable or unwilling to do so, to expect reasonable delays in records production." That decision is 12-ORD-097. Today's is 12-ORD-228.