Student paper contests withheld reports

The University of Kentucky Police Department broke the state’s Open Records Law by refusing to release victims’ names on crime reports, the Kentucky attorney general’s office ruled Monday.

A strongly worded opinion written by Amye L. Bensenhaver found that UK had not proved it was in the public interest to allow victims to choose whether they wanted their names released.

“Contrary to the views expressed by UKPD, the disputed incident reports are matters of public interest and are public records,” the opinion said. The information on crime reports represents a “significant public interest that has been, and will continue to be, treated as superior” to privacy interests.

“We were expecting it to come out in our favor because it went so blatantly against the Open Records Law, but we’re very happy,” said Emily Hagedorn, editor of the Kentucky Kernel, the campus newspaper that challenged UK’s decision.

Last month, UK lead counsel Barbara Jones decided to implement a new rule for crime reports, which allowed victims to withhold their names. She said it stemmed from the assault of a UK employee who’d asked police not to release his name.

The Kernel then sent an open-records request asking for several complete police reports. When it was turned down, the Kernel appealed to the attorney general’s office.

The opinion relied on several past opinions, including one that found police departments could redact the names of sexual assault victims, but had to report all other names. But the ruling consistently said that UK had tried to put the burden of proof on the Kernel, when in law it rests on the public agency resisting open-records requests.

In addition, the opinion accepted the Kernel’s argument that complete police reports helped monitor crime on campus, and monitor the police department itself.

Through a spokesperson, Jones said she was away from the office and had not yet read the opinion.

Louisville attorney Jon Fleischaker, a free-speech expert who represented the Kernel called the decision “a very good opinion, very strong, a reaffirmation that all this stuff is public.”

But Jones’ open-records wrangling may not be over yet.

According to a Kernel editorial published yesterday, Jones recently turned down part of a request from a student government leader asking for all documents held by UK officials regarding a controversial amendment.

She said personal notes and e-mails did not have to be released, a position that Fleischaker has already opposed.

Those records would have to contain personal information like medical records to be withheld, he said.

Hagedorn said the issue had provided good article and column fodder for the Kernel, and informed students about the state’s Open Records laws.

“The one good thing about this was it opens a dialogue about open records,” she said.