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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

LOUISVILLE COURIER JOURNAL EDITORIAL: "Call Off The Dogs, Mr. [Steve] Beshear. Comply With This [Kentucky Appeals] Court’s Order." AND WE WHOLEHEARTEDLY AGREE!

Editorial | State needs to comply with courts' orders to open abuse records

The Kentucky Court of Appeals has given yet another victory to the children of Kentucky and another loss to state welfare officials who have fought in court to keep records of their actions in child abuse and neglect cases from public scrutiny.

The three-judge panel ruled Monday that the public’s interest in knowing how the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services does its job outweighs any need for privacy in cases that result in death or near-fatalities.

It’s time — make that past time — for the cabinet to turn over those records.

The Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader sued the cabinet for access under state open records law to internal child fatality review reports following the deaths of numerous children who were known by state welfare officials to be at risk.

Scrutiny increased following the death of Amy Dye, a 9-year-old Todd County girl, who was beaten to death by her adoptive brother in February 2011. In that case, Amy’s teachers repeatedly warned child welfare officials that they believed Amy was being mistreated at home, but state social workers failed to act.

Since then, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled repeatedly that the cabinet should release the records.

And each time, despite a promise of transparency from Gov. Steve Beshear, the cabinet has waffled, wobbled and then thrown up more road blocks to obtaining the information.

The cabinet’s legal team is headed by Christine Heavrin, the agency’s top lawyer, who is known for her refusal to give in when the fight is lost — even when taxpayer money is at stake.

Ms. Heavrin, you may recall, was the lawyer for Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson when he was mayor of Louisville Metro, and she was behind the seemingly endless losing appeals in cases involving firefighter pensions and police take-home cars that ultimately cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

Under her guidance, the cabinet has been ordered to pay nearly $100,000 in legal fees to the newspapers’ lawyers.

But money is not the issue here. The safety of Kentucky’s children is.

The public needs to see how those entrusted with protecting the state’s most vulnerable citizens do their jobs.

The people of Kentucky need to see what’s happening so they can call for specific changes to the state’s child protection system in order to correct the problems that have led to deaths of infants and toddlers so more children don’t needlessly suffer.

And Gov. Beshear needs to be a man of his word and provide the transparency he promised last November.

Call off the dogs, Mr. Beshear. Comply with this court’s order.

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