Franklin County

High court denies media's effort to obtain Lawson statement

The Kentucky Supreme Court on Thursday affirmed a lower court's decision to dismiss an attempt by the Herald-Leader and other state media to get access to a 1983 court statement by road paving magnate Leonard Lawson.

The high court agreed with the Court of Appeals, which said the lawsuit brought by The Courier-Journal of Louisville, the Herald-Leader and The Associated Press was flawed because it failed to name the Office of the Attorney General of Kentucky as a defendant.

The attorney general is the custodian of Lawson's 1983 statement, which was given as part of a plea agreement in federal court. Mountain Enterprises, the blacktop company Lawson owned at the time, pleaded guilty to violating federal anti-trust laws.

The news organizations sought Lawson's 1983 statement through the Kentucky Open Records Act last year after a federal grand jury indicted Lawson on charges that he conspired with state Transportation Cabinet officials to illegally access confidential road project cost estimates.

Last month, a federal jury in Lexington acquitted Lawson on all charges.

Now that Lawson's trial is over, the media organizations can ask Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate again to release the statement, said Jon Fleischaker, the attorney who represented the organizations.

"There's no reason we shouldn't get it," he said.

Attorney General Jack Conway initially decided to release the statement. He notified Lawson's lawyers, who objected. They argued that releasing the statement could influence the jury in the trial that began in January. Win gate ruled against releasing the statement.

While the Supreme Court ruled that the news organizations failed to name the attorney general as a defendant, the unanimous opinion didn't address the core issue of whether the statement should be released.