Chief justice working on new records policy

lblackford@herald-leader.comMarch 19, 2009 

State Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. has been in the job less than a year, but he's already looking to shake up decades of secrecy surrounding Kentucky's courts and administration.

Although the Administrative Office of the Courts won't release many details, a spokeswoman confirmed that Minton is drafting a new open-records policy to shed a little more light on the inner workings of judges, lawyers and courts.

Leigh Anne Hiatt said the policy should be drafted over the next few months before it goes to the Judicial Council, a group of legislators, judges and lawyers, for review.

Although court records are considered public documents, much of the state's court system, including the AOC and the Kentucky Bar Association, have been immune from the state's Open Records Law since 1978. That's when the Supreme Court ruled that the legislative branch could not make rules for the judicial branch.

First Amendment lawyer Jon Fleischaker, who represents the Kentucky Press Association, says he's been fighting for more openness from the judicial branch for years, particularly for an organization such as the Kentucky Bar Association.

"This is one of the most important agencies in the state, and they spend a load of money and have always taken the position it's none of your business," he said. "Chief Justice Minton is committed to changing that."

Under the leadership of former Chief Justice Joseph Lambert, the AOC released some records related to its $880 million courthouse building program to the Herald-Leader but refused to release others.

"It's only been the last couple of years that there's been a new day and new understanding that it's the public's business as to what's happening over there," Fleischaker said.

In a statement, Kentucky Bar Association officials pledged to serve "a positive role in the process of developing new open records rules."

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