FRANKFORT — A Franklin Circuit judge expects to rule by Tuesday whether a battle over child-abuse death records should stay in his court.
Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd said he hoped to have a decision by Tuesday, when the state Court of Appeals is expected to hear motions in the case involving the state's two largest newspapers and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which oversees child protection.
Shepherd has ruled previously that child-protection records are open to the public when a child dies or nearly dies from abuse or neglect. Shepherd said only limited information in those files could be kept secret — such as Social Security numbers and the names of children who are injured but don't die.
The state appealed Shepherd's order to the state Court of Appeals, arguing that more information in those documents should be kept secret under exemptions in the state's Open Records Act. At the same time, the cabinet released case files of eight children who were killed or nearly killed as a result of abuse and neglect, but it redacted more information than allowed under Shepherd's previous ruling.
Attorneys for the Lexington Herald-Leader and The (Louisville) Courier-Journal asked Shepherd on Monday to amend his latest order so that disagreements about what information should be public could be settled in his court and not at the Court of Appeals.
Attorneys for the cabinet argued during a hearing Monday that because the issue is now on appeal, Shepherd cannot amend his order.
Robert Houlihan, a lawyer for the Herald-Leader, said the cabinet was trying to appeal the order in a bid to get the matter out of Shepherd's court. The two sides should first argue over what should be released on a case-by-case basis, he said. If either party is not satisfied, it can appeal, he said.
The newspapers have asked for all case files of children who were killed or nearly killed as a result of abuse and neglect in 2009 and 2010.
As the legal battle continues, the legislature is considering legislation that would specify what documents about child deaths should be public. Rep. Tom Burch, chairman of the House Health and Welfare Committee, said he expected his committee to vote on legislation dealing with child fatality records in mid-February.