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Thursday, July 12, 2012


Editorial: State's wasteful pursuit of secrecy

Full accounting due on child deaths

In late May, 2009 Kayden Daniels, the 22-month-old son of a 14-year-old mother and 19-year-old father, died after he drank drain cleaner — a key ingredient in methamphetamine — from a cup sitting on a table in his parents' trailer.

This horrific story raised numerous questions. Among them was how this could happen when both Kayden and his mother were under the supervision of Kentucky's Cabinet for Health and Family Services at the time of his death.

Seeking answers, the Herald-Leader and the Louisville Courier-Journal asked to see the records of the cabinet's dealings with the two minors. The cabinet denied the request and the newspapers sued to open the records.

Thus began a legal battle that continues to this day. The papers have asked for the case files of all children under the Cabinet's oversight who died or nearly died as a result of abuse or neglect in 2009 and 2010.

Every significant legal decision has supported opening the records, beginning with May 3, 2010, when Circuit Judge Philip Shepherd wrote that, under Kentucky open records law, "the public records related to the death of a child under the protection of the state foster care system are open to public inspection."

Despite that clear statement, the Kentucky Court of Appeals again this week — over three years since Kayden died and two years since Shepherd's initial ruling — had to tell the cabinet that it must obey the law.

Since the 2010 decision, the cabinet has moved very slowly to release records, often redacting significant information when it did.

The cabinet insists that's necessary to protect people who report abuse and to avoid endangering prosecutions — arguments rejected by the courts.

Along the way, the cabinet has sustained significant fines for non-compliance with court orders and has also been ordered to pay the costs of the newspapers pursuing the records.

That's wasteful, but this isn't a case just about a government agency wasting taxpayer money to protect itself from public scrutiny. It's also about protecting human life.

Shepherd stated that succinctly in a November, 2011 decision: "Release of these records will help to keep the Cabinet accountable to prevent future tragedies and to answer to taxpayers who fund the Cabinet."

It's time, past time, for the cabinet to release the records and get on with the work of preventing future tragedies.

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