Appeals court upholds ruling ordering state cabinet to pay fine for withholding records
State Cabinet for Health and Family Services must pay newspaper more than $16,000 for improperly withholding records
LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – The Kentucky Court of Appeals has upheld a ruling that the state Cabinet for Families and Children “improperly and willfully” denied a newspaper’s request for records in a child abuse death and must pay damages.
In an order Friday, the appeals court ordered the cabinet to pay the Todd County Standard newspaper nearly $10,000 in attorney fees and more than $6,000 in fines for violating the state Open Records Act.
Since 2011, the newspaper has sought files related to the death of Amy Dye, a 9-year-old girl from Todd County who was murdered by her foster brother.
The cabinet initially claimed it possessed “no records” of Amy’s death “because her fatality was not the result of abuse or neglect,” according to Friday’s ruling by the appeals court.
However, after the newspaper appealed to the Attorney General’s office, the cabinet admitted it did possess the records but argued they were not accessible under the Open Records Act.
A circuit court judge ruled in 2012 that the records should be released and that the cabinet “willfully” violated the open records law – and awarded the newspaper about $16,000 in damages.
On Friday, the appeals court denied an appeal by the cabinet, finding the lower court judge correctly ruled that records had been improperly withheld and properly awarded damages.
Jon Fleischaker, a lawyer for the Todd County newspaper, said he was pleased with the ruling and hoped it would not be appealed.
"We have always thought that the cabinet misrepresented what filings they had in an effort to not comply with the open records law," he said.
Louisville lawyer Sheryl Snyder, who represents the cabinet, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
The appeals court has not ruled on an appeal ordering the cabinet to pay The Courier-Journal and Lexington Herald-Leader more $1 million in legal costs and penalties for delays in providing records.
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