Beshear Administration Ends Records Appeal, Will Pay KyCIR’s Legal Fees

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Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration has agreed to settle public records lawsuits filed by two state cabinets against the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

The settlements mark the end of a legal struggle that began in November 2017, when KyCIR requested six years of sexual harassment complaints through Kentucky’s Open Records Act, which gives the public the right to access records kept by the state government. 

Under the previous administration of Gov. Matt Bevin, the Labor and Finance and Administration cabinets sought to keep sealed the names of state employees who were accused of sexual harassment in cases where an internal investigation didn’t substantiate the allegations.

The terms of the settlement will require the state to pay KyCIR about $53,000 in legal fees and release the unredacted versions documents sought by KyCIR, according to KyCIR’s attorney Jon Fleischaker. 

“The public has a right to know what their government is doing, and KyCIR will always fight for that right,” Louisville Public Media President Stephen George said in an email. “I applaud the Beshear administration’s acknowledgement of the transparency that state law requires.” 

Louisville Public Media is the parent company of KyCIR.

Most state agencies complied with KyCIR’s initial 2017 request for documents related to sexual harassment allegations against state employees, although the transparency of their responses varied. The resulting KyCIR investigations found that at least 250 sexual harassment complaints were filed by state employees since 2012

It’s the second time Beshear has weighed in on the public records dispute. KyCIR asked Beshear to intervene when he was still Kentucky’s Attorney General in 2018, after the Labor and Finance and Administration cabinets did not comply with the original records request.

Beshear sided with KyCIR and ordered the cabinets to release the redacted names of employees who had been accused of sexual harassment. Both cabinets sued KyCIR to prevent disclosing the information. 

Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip J. Shepherd also ruled in favor of KyCIR and ordered the cabinets to pay legal fees and turn over the documents. Both cabinets appealed aspects of the decision, and it is these appeals that Beshear’s administration ultimately settled.

The settlements were part of eight similar lawsuits settled this week by Kentucky media outlets including KyCIR and The Courier Journal, also represented by Fleischaker.

“What it means is that the Beshear administration has a totally different viewpoint toward transparency in government than the Bevin administration had,” Fleischaker said. “The Bevin administration, in my experience — which is pretty substantial — was absolutely opposed to transparency and opposed many, many open records requests that the law was pretty clear that we were entitled to.”

Deputy Communications Director Sebastian Kitchen said in an emailed statement that Beshear is committed to transparency and open government.

“Since taking office, the administration has ended several lawsuits over public records and released those documents,” Kitchen said.

Contact Jared Bennett at (502) 814-6543 or jbennett@kycir.org.