The headline really told it all: “You now have the right to inspect the records of this scandal-plagued state agency.”
Scandals grow in the dark and the unfortunate truth is that the Administrative Office of the Courts was fertile ground for them while its records were hidden. Most recently, the AOC has been investigated for employee-only sales that saw used equipment bought by workers for ridiculously low prices, like $10 for a laptop computer.
The Kentucky Supreme Court took an important step to shine sunlight on the AOC with an order creating an open-records policy for the agency, making it clear when it must let the public see what it is doing.
To back up a bit, the AOC is the arm of the state court system responsible for managing the budget, building and maintaining facilities and equipment, managing the personnel system and payroll.
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Although Kentucky has strong open-records laws that apply to the executive and legislative branches, under the doctrine of separation of powers, they do not apply to the court system, including the AOC.
The AOC has maintained that it voluntarily complied with the spirit of the open records act, but we see where that got us. In any case, it is much better to have written standards that provide less wiggle room when someone comes asking uncomfortable questions.
Chief Justice John Minton Jr. recognized this in his comments about the order: “transparency and accountability are bedrock principles in maintaining trust in state government.”