Politics & Government

Judge rules in favor of news organizations regarding Lawson statement

FRANKFORT — A Franklin Circuit Court judge says the media is entitled to a 1983 court statement made by road-building magnate Leonard Lawson.

Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate ruled Monday that the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Courier-Journal and the Associated Press are entitled to a 1983 proffer made by Lawson during a civil investigation of his former company Mountain Enterprises.

The news media and Lawson have been in a legal argument over access to the statement that he gave to the Kentucky attorney general's office after pleading guilty to antitrust violations in 1983.

In 2008, Lawson and others were indicted in federal court on charges relating to trying to obtain secret state estimates for road projects. Lawson was later acquitted. Federal prosecutors had said they were going to use the 1983 statement in the federal criminal trial. The news media asked for the 1983 statement under the Kentucky Open Records Act in 2009. Attorney General Jack Conway's office, the custodian of the document, initially denied the request because of the ongoing criminal case.

In his ruling, Wingate said that because Lawson had agreed as part of the antitrust investigation to cooperate with law enforcement he had no expectation that the 1983 statement would remain private.

Guthrie True, an attorney for Lawson, could not be reached for comment. It's not clear whether Lawson will appeal Monday's decision. If Lawson appeals, the 1983 statement probably will not be available to the news media immediately. "Obviously, we're very pleased with the decision. We think it's a good one," said Jon Fleischaker, an attorney for the news organizations.