Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear has intervened in two more cases in which a university has sued students newspapers over open records cases involving sexual assault.
Beshear announced this week his office has filed motions in Warren Circuit Court in a lawsuit that Western Kentucky University filed against its student newspaper, the College Heights Herald, and the University of Kentucky newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel. He has also filed a motion in Franklin Circuit Court, where Kentucky State University’s lawsuit against the Kentucky Kernel will be decided.
All the cases stem from an open records dispute over campus sexual assault documents. The Kernel requested investigative documents from all the public universities in the state after a much-publicized case at UK. The College Heights Herald also requested the same documents from WKU. Both WKU and Kentucky State refused to release the documents, as UK did previously.
Beshear found both schools in violation of the Kentucky Open Records Act. In order to appeal that decision, both schools had to sue the student newspapers in circuit court.
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Beshear intervened in the lawsuits because the schools also refused to let his office examine the documents confidentially to determine if they should be released.
“The anti-transparency stance by both schools is an attempt to turn Kentucky’s Open Records Act into a ‘trust me’ law,” Beshear said. “A university should lead by example and promote transparency, not run away from it.”
Both WKU and Kentucky State recently hired new presidents.
“It’s my hope that the incoming presidents will help steer the university away from this legal battle and allow my office to review the documents,” Beshear said.
The Kernel lost in Fayette Circuit Court when Judge Thomas Clark ruled that UK had properly withheld investigative documents. The Kernel is appealing that decision. Beshear’s office still has standing in that case, but no hearing date has been set.
A hearing in the WKU case is scheduled in Warren Circuit Court at 9 a.m. CST on April 3 in front of Judge Steve Wilson.
A hearing in the KSU case was originally scheduled for March 29 but has been moved to April 5, at 9 a.m. in front of Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate.
WKU 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.