Story by Kentucky Press News Service
The Office of Attorney General Andy Beshear has filed a motion in Franklin Circuit Court seeking to intervene in Kentucky State University’s lawsuit against a student newspaper.
At issue is KSU’s denial of requested documents by the Kentucky Kernel, the University of Kentucky’s student newspaper, and of a request by Beshear’s office to legally review the withheld documents.
Beshear said the power of the attorney general to confidentially review withheld records is critical to enforce Kentucky’s Open Records law, and KSU’s lawsuit is an attack on the state’s transparency laws.
“Sadly, Kentucky State University leadership took the position that many other public universities leaders have taken – that they are above transparency,” Beshear said. “A public university should be focused on strengthening its students and not having a legal battle with a student newspaper and my office. I’m hopeful that the university’s new president will step in and correct the situation by dropping the lawsuit and allowing my office to review the documents.”
In late January, Beshear found Kentucky State University violated the Open Records Act by denying records to a Kentucky Kernel reporter “relating to university’s investigation(s) into allegations of sexual misconduct.” Because the university refused to provide the records Beshear requested for confidential review, the university failed to show that the records were protected by the exceptions claimed by the university.
Under Kentucky law, the attorney general has the statutory authority to review confidential records related to an appeal. An appeal by the attorney general carries the force of law unless a decision by his office is challenged in circuit court. KSU is challenging Beshear’s decisions by suing the student newspaper since a university cannot sue the attorney general.
“Without a confidential review by my office, institutions can hide serious issues related to sexual assault, ignore victims and tell parents and families that a given campus may be safer than it is,” Beshear said. “Essentially, KSU’s actions are attempting to turn Kentucky’s Open Records Act into a ‘trust me’ law.”
Beshear’s office will file a motion this week to intervene in Western Kentucky University’s lawsuit against its student newspaper, the College Heights Herald. Beshear found WKU also violated the Open Records Act by denying records relating to any investigation by the university into allegations of sexual misconduct.
Beshear currently has standing before a judge in Fayette County in a case against the University of Kentucky’s denial of records to his office.
A hearing in the KSU case is scheduled for 9 a.m. March 29 in Franklin Circuit Court.