Beshear files motion to intervene in UK's appeal of favorable open records decision for student newspaper

09/07/2016 05:45 PM

FRANKFORT — Attorney General Andy Beshear filed a motion in Fayette Circuit Court on Wednesday seeking to intervene in a lawsuit between the University of Kentucky and its student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel.

At issue is the university’s investigation into a sexual harassment complaint against a former associate professor, James Harwood, that led to his resignation, effective Aug. 31, in February.

The Kentucky Kernel requested the investigative file but was rebuffed by the university, which said in response that some of the records were preliminary or constituted an invasion of privacy.

Last month, Beshear’s office ruled that UK violated the Kentucky Open Records Act because it did not comply with a request by the attorney general to review the disputed records.

UK appealed in circuit court, and for Beshear, a loss in court would prove detrimental to transparency. Such a ruling would allow other public agencies to ignore the Office of the Attorney General in open records and open meetings appeals, he said.

“It would be the silver bullet that would allow public bodies to work in secret, to hide their records and break the law, and in my opinion, UK has already failed the ‘trust us’ when it comes to public records and open meetings,” Beshear said during a Capitol news conference.

But Beshear has faced his own criticisms after a long-time open records attorney, Amye Bensenhaver, retired last week following a reprimand for speaking to the press without authorization.

She told Pure Politics that she’s seen a more political tilt in open records and open meetings decisions in recent years, starting in the second term of former Attorney General Jack Conway.

One example she cited: finding that the Kentucky Retirement Systems meeting that featured a beefed up police presence violated the state’s open meetings law.

Beshear said his decision to join the UK suit had nothing to do with Bensenhaver, and he took umbrage at the suggestion that politics came into his office’s open records and open meetings rulings.

“I strongly disagree with any suggestion that any decision made in this office with open records or open meetings has been political, and there’s an easy way to judge us by it: read the opinions, evaluate the opinions,” he said. “Our work here all ends in the actual opinions and is open to the public, is open to the press, and is open to other lawyers to look at and determine.

“I stand 100 percent behind our decision as to the open meetings violation dealing with the Kentucky Retirement Systems.”

Beshear also announced a lawsuit his office filed against American Home Design, which does business as Sunrooms and More, for allegedly violating the Kentucky Consumer Protection Act. The attorney general’s office accused the company, which specializes in sunroom additions, of failing to complete work, declining to fix deficient work and failing to get proper building permits, among other allegations.

In the suit, Beshear is seeking restitution for affected customers and the company’s Kentucky business licenses revoked if the alleged practices are repeated, among other items.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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