Gov. Matt Bevin’s office violated Kentucky’s Open Records Act when it refused to provide an Arizona attorney with some of the emails it exchanged with the White House, according to a new ruling by Attorney General Andy Beshear’s office.
Spencer Scharff, a civil rights attorney in Phoenix who previously served as voter protection director of the Arizona Democratic Party, said in a telephone interview Monday that he has been seeking similar information from other governors and state officeholders across the country “in the name of transparency and to help journalism.”
Amanda Stamper, a spokeswoman for Bevin, accused Beshear of abusing his power for political gain.
“Just last year, a long-time employee in his office accused Attorney General Beshear of politicizing open records decisions,” Stamper said Monday. “Simply put, we will not be a part of Attorney General Beshear’s abuse of the Open Records Act.”
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She did not say Monday whether the governor will appeal the decision in circuit court. It carries the weight of law unless a court says differently.
According to Beshear’s 11-page opinion, Scharff requested on July 7 all email communication the Republican governor or his staff has had since Dec. 1, 2016, with email addresses containing one of the following domains: @who.eop.gov and/or @ptt.gov.
Scharff said Monday the email domains are used by White House staffers.
On July 21, Bevin’s deputy general counsel, Michael T. Alexander, gave Scharff “several pages of non-exempt email records” but withheld records “relating to the governor’s schedule, communications with private individuals and communications regarding preliminary matters.”
Scharff asked Alexander on July 24 for legal clarification on his denial and to reconsider his position. Four days later, Alexander responded that 63 pages of “email records that relate directly to the governor’s daily schedule” were withheld because they are exempt from disclosure under state law.
Alexander also said several additional pages were being withheld from Scharff because “officials must be able to make preliminary comments on various matters without fear that those comments will be thrown into the public arena.”
Scharff appealed Bevin’s denial to Beshear’s office on Aug. 15.
Beshear’s office then asked the governor’s office to provide unredacted hard copies of all the information Scharff requested so that Beshear could review it privately, as is routinely done in such cases, to determine whether the documents are exempt from public disclosure under the Open Records Act. Officials in Beshear’s office “expressly acknowledged” their obligation to “maintain the confidentiality of the records,” according to Beshear’s ruling.
Beshear, a Democrat, has had several high-profile political disputes with Bevin.
On Sept. 26, Alexander told Beshear that the governor’s office “is willing to allow a court to review the disputed documents if necessary, but not the attorney general.”
Alexander said Beshear is “an adversary of the governor both institutionally and politically” and “hardly a disinterested arbiter.”
Scharff said he was “taken aback with that strong language.”
Without being able to review the documents, Beshear said “his only recourse is to find against the public agency in the hope that the agency will more conscientiously discharge its duties under the Open Records Act in the future.”