Education

Beshear to intervene in WKU, KSU lawsuits against student newspapers

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear announced Wednesday that he will intervene in lawsuits filed by Western Kentucky University and Kentucky State University against student newspapers.
Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear announced Wednesday that he will intervene in lawsuits filed by Western Kentucky University and Kentucky State University against student newspapers. mcornelison@herald-leader.com

Attorney General Andy Beshear will intervene in the lawsuits of Western Kentucky University and Kentucky State University against two student newspapers in open records cases involving sexual assault.

“We are seeing an all too familiar pattern by our public universities to stifle transparency related to public records of faculty’s potential involvement in cases of sexual assault,” Beshear said. “My office currently has standing before a judge in Fayette County in our fight against the University of Kentucky’s denial of records, and we will be requesting the judges in these other cases allow us to intervene. What is at stake is too important, and the ramifications are simply too great.”

Beshear has already joined a case filed by the University of Kentucky against its student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel. The lawsuit was an appeal against an opinion by Beshear that UK violated the open records law when it refused to hand over investigative documents to the Kernel in a sexual abuse case by a professor. Beshear joined that case when UK also refused to hand over documents to his office to examine confidentially to decide if they should be released.

In January, a Fayette Circuit judge agreed with UK that releasing documents might allow victims to be identified even if personal identifiers were redacted. The Kernel is appealing that decision.

Meanwhile, a Kernel reporter filed requests under the Kentucky Open Records Act for similar documents at other public universities around the state. The College Heights Herald also asked for documents from WKU.

Both Western and Kentucky State refused, and Beshear found them in violation of open records law. So in February both schools appealed those decisions by suing the Kernel and the College Heights Herald.

Beshear said the authority of the Attorney General to review withheld records is critical to enforce the Open Records law.

“Without a confidential review by my office, institutions can hide serious issues related to sexual assault, ignore victims and tell parents and families that a given campus may be safer than it is,” Beshear said. “Essentially, the universities’ actions are attempting to turn Kentucky’s Open Records Act into a ‘trust me’ law.”

Both Western and Kentucky State have declined to comment on the matter.

Eastern Kentucky University gave the Kernel copies of previous investigations with victims’ names redacted. Most newspapers do not identify the victims of sexual assault.

Northern Kentucky University, Murray State, University of Louisville and Morehead State University gave the Kernel some documents, but not everything requested.

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