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

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.

State Cabinets Appeal Order To Pay KyCIR’s Legal Fees

Two state cabinets are appealing a judge’s order that they must reimburse the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting for legal costs after withholding public records. Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip J. Shepherd ruled this spring that the Labor and Finance and Administration cabinets “willfully” violated open records laws when they refused to release the names of employees accused of sexual harassment, but internal investigations didn’t deem the allegations substantiated. Shepherd ordered the Labor Cabinet to pay more than $17,000, and the Finance and Administration Cabinet to pay more than $19,000, to KyCIR for legal costs and penalties. In a Monday filing, the Labor Cabinet said that Shepherd’s decision to award fees was an “abuse of discretion.” The cabinet argued that it operated in “good faith” in its decision to withhold records, and should not be punished for its interpretation of the law. That cabinet has already turned over the name it previously withheld of a staffer accused of sexual harassment. Court records show that Hector Fonseca was under a court order to stay away from a woman who accused him of domestic violence when a coworker in September 2016 said Fonseca exposed himself and forced her to touch his genitals.