Ky. Court Orders Release of Child Death Records

Apr 25, 2013

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The Kentucky Supreme Court has ordered state child welfare officials to publicly release records of child abuse cases resulting in death or serious injury.

The court released the 3-3 vote Thursday in a brief order on whether to halt a lower-court decision ordering the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to open the cases. The tie vote let the lower court's decision stand.

Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled in February 2012 that The Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader should have access to internal reviews of cases in which children died or were seriously injured from abuse or neglect.

The ruling means the cabinet must provide case files following a process laid out by Shepherd detailing the information that can be withheld and ordering that each deletion be explained. The newspapers may challenge the deletions.

Shepherd had ruled that previous redactions were overly broad, making it impossible for anyone to assess how effectively the cabinet did its job protecting children.

Despite asking for the stay, cabinet officials have released some death and near-death case files with redactions that officials describe as minimal. Officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday on the Supreme Court order and whether it will change how it releases information.

This is the latest in the lengthy court fight by the state's two largest newspapers to get records after several high-profile child-death cases. Throughout the process, Shepherd has ruled multiple times that there is "no legal basis" for withholding the records.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals voted 2-1 in July to allow the release.

The Supreme Court considered the case before after former Justice Wil Schroeder retired for health reasons, leaving the high court one member short. Since voting on the cabinet's request, a new justice, Michelle Keller, has been sworn in. She did not take part in the vote.