Judge orders cabinet to release child-abuse records in 90 days

bestep@herald-leader.comFebruary 23, 2012 

FRANKFORT — The state must provide a massive cache of records in child-abuse and neglect cases to the state's two largest newspapers in 90 days, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled Thursday.

The records at issue are files on 180 cases in which children died or were hurt as a result of abuse or neglect in 2009 and 2010.

The Lexington Herald-Leader and The Courier-Journal of Louisville sued the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to get access to the records, which include details on how the agency handled the cases.

The cabinet had long refused to release such records, but Shepherd ruled that they are public under the state's open records law.

He ordered the cabinet last month to begin giving the newspapers 1,000 pages a week.

The files will include tens of thousands of pages total. The cabinet has released about 4,000 pages.

However, Shepherd noted the cabinet's "utter failure" to spell out a justification, as required by state law, for withholding some details from the records.

Shepherd said his earlier order for a gradual release of the records was designed to let the cabinet appeal — based on its argument that the records are not public — while also beginning to satisfy the newspapers' right to inspect the files.

However, the continued legal fight means that isn't working as planned, Shepherd said.

As a result, he entered an injunction directing the cabinet to turn over all the records at one time.

The cabinet may continue its appeal.

Bill Estep: (859) 231-3212. Twitter: @billestep1

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