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Kentucky Cabinet Sues KyCIR Over Withheld Sexual Harassment Records

lawsuit snip
Kate Howard

The Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet is suing the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting to prevent the release of unredacted documents relating to sexual harassment complaints.

The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, like WFPL, is part ofLouisville Public Media.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in Franklin Circuit Court. It’s in response toa ruling from Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear ordering the cabinet to allow the AG’s office to review unredacted versions of records that were given to KyCIR.

"Kentuckians should have access to records kept by their government, and the law makes clear these records should be public," said Louisville Public Media Interim President Stephen George in a written statement. "We’ll keep fighting for transparency and the people’s right to know."

In November, KyCIR requested documents from every Kentucky cabinet outlining all complaints made by state employees related to sexual harassment, and information about any related internal investigations, settlements or disciplinary action.

Most cabinets complied, although as outlined in the investigation,the amount of information officials released varied from agency to agency.

The Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet received an initial records request from KyCIR on November 3; the cabinet requested more time, but by January 29, 2018 still hadn’t provided the records, according to documents. KyCIR appealed the delay to Beshear, arguing there was no legally permissible reason for the delay.

After the appeal, the cabinet did provide some documents to KyCIR, but omitted information about the identity of accused sexual harassers and other information they argued was not public. The cabinet refused to allow the Attorney General’s office to review the unredacted records, largely on procedural grounds.

On February 28, Beshear ruled the cabinet’s refusal to let his office view the documents violated the Open Records Act. Now, the cabinet is asking a judge to reject the AG’s decision. If a review of the unredacted documents is necessary, they’re asking the judge to perform it rather than Beshear’s office.

Kentucky state law requires any entity appealing an open records decision by the attorney general sue the original requester.

"Today the Finance and Administration Cabinet filed an appeal of an Open Records Act decision by the Attorney General’s office," said cabinet spokeswoman Pamela Trautner. "The Attorney General’s decision is plainly wrong and we look forward to having the issues resolved by the court."

Earlier this month, Beshear ruled in response to another cabinet that the names of employees accused of sexual harassment and exonerated are public record, too. That was related to an appeal filed by KyCIR over the Kentucky Labor Cabinet’s response to a similar Open Records Request.

This post has been updated to include a comment from the Finance and Administration Cabinet.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.