WKU, Kentucky State denied records to college reporters, AG’s office
Attorney General Andy Beshear has filed motions in Warren and in Franklin circuit courts seeking to intervene in lawsuits against two student newspapers.
Western Kentucky University denied requested documents by its college newspaper, the College Heights Herald, and the Kentucky Kernel, the University of Kentucky’s student newspaper.
At issue with Kentucky State University is its denial of requested documents by the Kentucky Kernel 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 both lawsuits are an attack on the state’s transparency laws.
“Sadly, Kentucky State University and Western Kentucky 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 both incoming university presidents 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.
More recently, Beshear found Western Kentucky University also violated the Open Records Act by denying records relating to any investigation by the university into allegations of sexual misconduct.
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. As is the case in a lawsuit the University of Kentucky brought against the Kentucky Kernel because of a similar Open Records request, the universities are challenging Beshear’s decisions by suing the student newspapers 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, these actions are attempting to turn Kentucky’s Open Records Act into a ‘trust me’ law.”
A hearing in the KSU case was originally scheduled for March 29 but has been moved to April 5 at 9 a.m. in front of Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate.
A hearing in the WKU case is scheduled in Warren Circuit Court at 9 a.m. CST on April 3 in front of Judge Steve Wilson.