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)

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