Monday, March 21, 2016

Even the governor is subject to open records requests

Many of the open records opinions issued by Kentucky's attorney general deal with local governments, but it should not be forgotten that the law applies even at the highest levels of state government.

This week, the AG's office released an opinion that concerned requests to Gov. Matt Bevin and his office.

In In re: Louisville Public Media/Office of the Governor, 16-ORD-039 (issued March 16, 2016), Louisville Public Media ("LPM") had two particular requests for the governor and his office.

First, LPM requested records from the governor's office that would demonstrate any meetings between the governor or his staff and University of Louisville President James L. Ramsey or the president's staff, according to the facts of the opinion.

Second, LPM requested records from the governor's office concerning communications between the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the governor's office regarding abortion clinics, according to the opinion.

As to LPM's first request, the governor's office claimed that it had found one responsive email, but that it was preliminary in nature, and as such, was exempt from disclosure under the Open Records Act.

As to the second request, the governor's office claimed that the responsive emails that it had found were either preliminary in nature and, thus, exempt, and/or were exempt from disclosure based on attorney-client privilege.

LPM appealed the denial of its records requests, and the AG's office asked the governor's office for the responsive documents to review them in camera.

After reviewing the documents, the attorney general's office found that the governor's office was justified in withholding the email regarding the governor's schedule as preliminary and several of the emails responsive to the requests concerning the abortion clinics as either preliminary and/or based on attorney-client privilege.

However, the AG also found that two emails relating to the abortion clinics—one that only contained a fax number and one that contained a link to a Facebook post—were improperly withheld.

The opinion also found that the governor's office procedurally violated the open records act in not first detailing the reasons it had withheld responsive records concerning the governor's schedule, but that it had subsequently cured that violation by explaining its reasons for not disclosing the records on appeal.

Though not all responsive records were required to be disclosed in this case, individuals still should be mindful of their ability to request such records and should not be afraid to do so.

This opinion serves as an important reminder that individuals can request records from even the highest executive officer in the state.

The attorney general mentioned this opinion in a Lexington Herald-Leader article Monday concerning another opinion from his office, which found that Gov. Bevin does not have the power to remove duly appointed Kentucky Horse Park commissioners.

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