First Amendment & Media


Butler Fiscal Court v. Robert Cron, Butler Circuit Court (2010)

The Butler Fiscal Court held a series of less-than-quorum meetings in order to discuss the sheriff’s proposed budget. On appeal by local citizen activist Robert Cron, the Attorney General held that the Fiscal Court’s action violated the Open Meetings Act. The Fiscal Court appealed the decision to Butler Circuit Court. We represented Mr. Cron in the appeal, and the court affirmed the Attorney General’s decision.

Cape Publications, Inc. v. University of Louisville Foundation, Inc., 260 S.W.3d 818 (Ky. 2008)

The Courier-Journal sought records of donations made to the Foundation under the Open Records Act. The Foundation claimed that the privacy exception should allow it to withhold donor information. The trial court and the Court of Appeals agreed. In August 2008, the Supreme Court overturned the Court of Appeals ruling and held that donor information must be made public.

Central Kentucky News-Journal v. George, 306 S.W.3d 41 (Ky. 2010)

A public school employee filed suit against her employing school district, claiming sexual harassment by a school district official. She filed suit against another school district, claiming to have been wrongfully refused employment. Both claims were settled, but the settlement agreements contained confidentiality provisions. The newspaper sought, but was denied, access to the settlement agreements under the Open Records Act. After the trial court and Court of Appeals refused to grant access, we prevailed in the Kentucky Supreme Court, which held that settlement of litigation between private citizens and a governmental entity was matter of legitimate public concern that the public is entitled to scrutinize regardless of the existence of a confidentiality clause.

Commonwealth v. Jason Stinson, Jefferson Circuit Court (2009)

In August 2009, the Jefferson Circuit Court (Judge Gibson) excluded the press and public from the jury selection in this highly publicized murder case against a high school football coach involving the death of a student athlete during practice. We intervened on behalf of the Courier-Journal and convinced the trial court to allow media representatives to be present during jury selection.

Courier-Journal v. Cabinet for Health & Family Services, Franklin Circuit Court (2010)

The Cabinet had a policy of denying all requests for information relating to the deaths of children in its custody. The Cabinet denied an open records request for records relating to the death of Kayden Branham, a 1-yr-old under the Cabinet’s supervision who died after drinking drain cleaner in a meth lab when he had been placed with family elsewhere by the Cabinet. The Attorney General upheld the Cabinet’s denial. The Courier-Journal sued the Cabinet in Franklin Circuit Court, and the court overturned the Attorney General’s decision and awarded costs and attorneys’ fees to the Courier-Journal. The court held that federal and state law require the Cabinet to make publicly available records relating to fatalities or near fatalities of children under its supervision.

Dispute Relating to the Release of Records in Case Involving the Death Of A Toddler

When a newspaper was denied access to records from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services relating to a case involving the death of a toddler, they turned to Dinsmore. The paper requested records from the Cabinet following the death of a 20-month old toddler, whose mother had been under investigation by the Cabinet. The Cabinet denied the requests, citing confidentiality provisions of HIPAA and personal privacy exemptions in the Kentucky Revised Statutes (KRS) Open Records Act. The Attorney General had previously upheld the Cabinet’s decision to withhold the records from another newspaper, and that case was headed to the Franklin Circuit Court on appeal. We moved to intervene in the circuit court action, and the motion was granted. The circuit court found that the Cabinet was obligated to provide the records, and had violated the Open Records Act because the state laws cited by the Cabinet did not forbid disclosure of the records. The Court also ruled that attorney’s fees and costs were to be awarded to the newspaper, citing another part of Kentucky’s open records law that says, “Any person who prevails against any agency in any action in the courts regarding a willful violation of [the Kentucky Open Records Law]…may be awarded costs, including reasonable attorney’s fees incurred in connection with the legal action.” The circuit court’s ruling was affirmed by the Kentucky Court of Appeals. This ruling results in not only financial savings for the client, but also establishes clear precedent for asserting that governmental agencies may be responsible for a private litigant’s attorney’s fees when successful in seeking to open government records for public review.

Jefferson County Public Schools v. Courier-Journal, Jefferson Circuit Court (2009)

The school board conducted its annual evaluation of the superintendent in closed session. The Courier-Journal complained to the Attorney General, who held that the closed meeting violated the Open Meetings Act. JCPS appealed to Jefferson Circuit Court, and the court affirmed the Attorney General’s decision that the school board violated the Open Meetings Act. The court also awarded costs and attorneys’ fees, holding that the school board’s violation was willful.

Kentucky Community & Technical College System v. Messenger-Inquirer, Woodford Circuit Court (2010)

The Messenger-Inquirer sought records from the KCTCS concerning former Owensboro Community College President Paula Gastenveld, whom KCTCS had terminated from that position without stating any reason. The Attorney General, in two separate opinions, ruled that KCTCS violated the Open Records Act by withholding the requested records. KCTCS sued the Messenger-Inquirer in Woodford Circuit Court in two separate actions. We represented the newspaper on both actions, and the court affirmed the Attorney General decision and held that KCTCS willfully violated the Open Records Act and must pay attorneys’ fees and costs.

Kentucky State Police v. Courier-Journal, Franklin Circuit Court (2009)

The Courier-Journal sought access to the KSP’s sex offender registry database. The KSP denied the request, and the Attorney General held that KSP violated the Open Records Act. KSP appealed to Franklin Circuit Court, arguing that its software was proprietary and confidential. The court affirmed the Attorney General’s decision and awarded attorneys’ fees and costs to the newspaper because the KSP’s denial was a willful violation of the Open Records Act.

USA v. Karen Sypher, U.S. District Court, Western District of Ky. (2010)

The Courier-Journal intervened in this highly publicized extortion trial (in which U of L basketball coach Rick Pitino was the victim) in order to challenge the trial court’s pretrial order which prohibited the news media from attempting to speak with the defendant. A few days after the Courier-Journal’s motion, the court rescinded the order.