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U of L Foundation Unlawfully Withheld Public Records, Attorney General Rules

in Louisville, Ky., on Wednesday, June 4, 2014. Photo by Eleanor Hasken | Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting
Eleanor Hasken
in Louisville, Ky., on Wednesday, June 4, 2014. Photo by Eleanor Hasken | Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting

The University of Louisville Foundation violated the state's Open Records Act by refusing to release financial documents and contracts sought by WFPL's Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, the attorney general's office has ruled.

The attorney general decision released Friday carries the force of law. The foundation has 30 days to appeal the ruling. Otherwise, it must release the documents to the nonprofit investigative newsroom. (Read the decision)

This is the third such ruling against the foundation -- and in favor of KyCIR -- within the last month. On Aug. 5, the foundation was ordered to release staff lists, ethics and financial disclosure forms and a year's worth of payroll records to KyCIR. (Read "U of L Foundation Wrongly Withheld Public Records, Attorney General Rules")

The foundation has yet to appeal those rulings and has yet to signal whether it intends to release the public records.

The U of L Foundation is a nonprofit corporation that holds, invests and designates funds on behalf of the university. The foundation is a public agency and "the public has a legitimate interest" in its functions, Kentucky’s Supreme Court has previously ruled.

A foundation spokesperson could not be reached for comment. The foundation's telephone number, as noted on its office letterhead, went to the voicemail of Kathleen Smith, the university president's chief of staff.  She did not respond to a request for comment.

James Ramsey, who resigned as university president in late July with a $690,000 settlement, continues to preside over the nonprofit foundation. His role has come under great scrutiny and criticism. Foundation Board Chairman Junior Bridgeman has said the group would consider Ramsey's foundation tenure this fall.

This latest records decision against the foundation stems from a February public records request seeking two years of contracts and payments by the foundation. The foundation initially violated the law by failing to respond timely to the request, the attorney general's office noted. When it did respond, the foundation claimed the KyCIR request was "overly broad and blanket in nature."  (The foundation's attorney, David Saffer, is a board member of Louisville Public Media.)

The attorney general's office found the claim to be "misplaced" and a violation of the records act.

The decision was authored by former Assistant Attorney General Amye Bensenhaver, who resigned from the office earlier this week, reportedly under duress. Kentucky Today, an online news site, reported that the veteran public records expert had been previously reprimanded for violating office rules about speaking to the media.

The attorney general's office issued several other records decisions Friday regarding KyCIR. One ruling stated that the foundation's response was "untimely but did not substantively violate" records law. The newsroom had sought documents concerning the president's discretionary fund.

A second decision determined that U of L made "permissible redactions" to records but failed to respond timely.  Another ruling stated that the university did not violate the law in redacting information on pay stubs issued to KyCIR.

Also on Friday, the attorney general's office ruled that the University of Kentuckyillegally withheld documents the Lexington Herald-Leader sought concerning a Hazard cardiology practice that UK once owned.

KyCIR Managing Editor Brendan McCarthy can be reached at bmccarthy@kycir.org or (502) 814.6541.

Disclosure: In October 2014, the University of Louisville, which for years has donated to Louisville Public Media, earmarked $10,000 to KyCIR as part of a larger LPM donation. University board members Stephen Campbell and Sandra Frazier have donated to KyCIR. 

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