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Judge backs attorney general, orders Kentucky State to provide documents on alleged sexual misconduct

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

A judge has ordered Kentucky State University to allow the attorney general to examine some documents about alleged sexual misconduct of some of the school’s employees.

The University of Kentucky’s student newspaper asked to see the records last October for information surrounding Title IX investigations into student allegations of sexual misconduct by employees of the Frankfort school. However, Kentucky State University officials denied the request, saying it would disclose private information.

The newspaper appealed that denial to Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, who has jurisdiction over the state’s open records law.

Judge Thomas Wingate motions during court proceedings on Aug. 2. Wingate ruled Friday on Attorney General Andy Behsear’s open records request concerning Kentucky State University. (State-Journale/ Dylan Buell)

The Attorney General’s office requested documents and additional information from KSU to conduct a confidential or “in camera” review of the university’s denial, where they would not be made public.

KSU refused, so on Jan. 24, 2017, the AG’s office issued an open records decision, finding the school failed to provide an adequate reason to deny the Kernel request.

KSU then filed suit in Franklin Circuit Court against the Kernel on Feb. 23, 2017, appealing the Attorney General’s ruling. Judge Thomas Wingate granted the Attorney General’s office motion to intervene in the case. Both sides asked for a summary judgement by the judge on Aug. 1, in essence a ruling without a trial, and oral arguments were heard on Sept. 20.

Wingate ruled Friday the Attorney General’s office has the right to conduct an in camera review of substantiating documents as provided by law, when evaluating a public agency’s refusal to disclose those documents sought in an open records request, and does not violate FERPA, and ordered KSU to turn them over for review.

In a statement, Beshear called the ruling a win for transparency and accountability. “The statutory power of the Attorney General to confidentially review public documents is necessary to avoid turning Kentucky’s Open Records Act into a ‘trust me’ law,” he said.

“Without the review, there can be no government transparency, as a bad actor can easily cheat the system. In the context of a university, that would allow an institution to hide serious issues related to sexual assault, to ignore victims, and to tell parents and families that a given campus may be safer than it is.”

Kentucky State University has not said if it will appeal the ruling.

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