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Wednesday, May 01, 2013

We Fully Support Louisville Courier Jornal's Efforts To Ask The Court To Hold Kentucky Cabinet For Health And Family Services In Contemt Of Court.

C-J to ask Franklin judge to hold cabinet in contempt for withholding records

The Courier-Journal will ask a judge to hold the Cabinet for Health and Family Services in contempt of court for “blatantly” violating a February 2012 court order to release records of 180 cases of child fatalities or near-fatalities.
The newspaper will argue next Wednesday in Franklin Circuit Court that the cabinet should be held in contempt, be compelled to turn over the records and pay costs and attorneys’ fees of more than $56,000 for the past 15 months.
“The Cabinet has acted as if it simply does not care what this court orders it to do,” attorney Jon Fleischaker, who represents the newspaper, said in a motion.
The motion accuses the cabinet of improperly withholding and redacting records — of being “persistent in its tactics to hide much of the records” — despite repeated orders from Franklin Circuit

Judge Phillip Shepherd that both The C-J and Lexington Herald-Leader should be allowed access to internal reviews of cases in which children died or were seriously injured from abuse or neglect.
Since the state court of appeals denied an appeal by the cabinet in July, the state has had no communication with The C-J on what records were being provided or redacted, according to the motion.
The motion comes days after the Kentucky Supreme Court required the cabinet to publicly release the records.
In an interview, Fleischaker said the cabinet has been required to turn over records even as the Supreme Court case was pending.

The justices voted 3-3 last week on whether to grant a stay of a lower court’s order that the cabinet open the cases. Because the court was evenly split, a previous decision by the appeals court denying the stay was upheld.
That means the cabinet must provide case files following a protocol set out by Shepherd spelling out what information can be redacted by the cabinet and ordering the cabinet to explain each redaction. Shepherd had ruled that previous redactions were overly broad, making it impossible to assess how effectively the cabinet did its job protecting children.

Despite asking for the stay, cabinet officials have released some case files with redactions that officials describe as “minimal.” The motion claims the cabinet has not explained what is being withheld and “unilaterally decided to provide whatever records it wants to.” For example, the contempt motion cites the case of a near-fatality in which the cabinet withheld all information and records about reports of abuse or neglect that had been deemed “unsubstantiated” as well as names of all adults involved, unspecified “other children and “unrelated documents” — without justifying why the information was not being given. On Thursday, Cabinet spokeswoman Jill Midkiff responded to the Supreme Court decision, saying the cabinet has never attempted to protect the names of social workers involved in the cases and has only made redactions to protect the privacy of some parties involved. On Tuesday, Midkiff said she could not comment on the motion for contempt until after talking with the cabinet’s attorneys. The Supreme Court’s tie vote “demonstrates that the cabinet made strong arguments to protect the privacy of innocent siblings and the identity of all individuals who report suspected abuse,” she said last week. Midkiff has said the redactions are intended to ensure that people can report abuse without fear of retaliation. This is the latest round in the lengthy court fight by the state’s two largest newspapers to get records after several high-profile child-death cases. Shepherd has ruled multiple times that there is “no legal basis” for withholding the records.

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