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Kentucky Courts System Now Subject To Open Records Rule

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For the first time, the public will have access to records held by the administrative arm of Kentucky’s courts system, though there are several exceptions to the new policy.

The state’s judicial branch had for years refused to adhere to the state’s open records law, saying that the legislature couldn’t write laws that govern them because of the separation of powers principle.

But after a series of scandals this year, the seven justices of the Kentucky Supreme Court voted to approve the new policy.

“Transparency and accountability are bedrock principles in maintaining trust in state government,” said Chief Justice of Kentucky John Minton in a statement. “While the Judicial Branch has long complied with the spirit of the Open Records Act, it was time to formalize our commitment into written policy.”

The policy applies to the Administrative Office of the Courts, which manages a $75 million budget, oversees court facilities and personnel across the state’s 120 counties and handles the state’s pretrial services and drug courts.

Court records have already been considered public record and available through court clerks unless sealed by a judge.

The new policy also has several exceptions, including legal research and analysis, draft documents, notes, informal correspondence and maps or schematics that the agency deems might expose the state to terroristic threats.

Louisville First Amendment attorney Jon Fleischaker called the policy “an important step,” in a statement provided by the AOC.

“By establishing its own policy, the Judicial Branch demonstrates its commitment to transparency while preserving the separation of powers in state government,” said Fleischaker, an attorney with Dinsmore & Shohl. “I’ve been looking forward to the day the public has definitive guidance on how to access the court system’s administrative records.”

The Lexington Herald-Leader first reported that the AOC sold state-owned vehicles, laptops and other items to employees with price tags far below market value.

Attorney General Andy Beshear launched an investigation into the matter.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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