The first of many open records lawsuits currently pending in Kentucky's courts -- and, in some respects, the most foundational -- has been settled by the parties in favor of public access.
In October 2022, The 490 Project filed suit against Louisville Metro Police Department — in Jefferson Circuit Court — for its longstanding pattern of public records mismanagement and obstruction.
In an op-ed published shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the Kentucky Open Government Coalition observed:
"Mirroring controversies at the national level, illegal destruction of public records is now an issue squarely before a Kentucky court and, in turn, all Kentuckians.
“The 490 Project and its attorney Rick Adams, as well as WFPL News and The Courier Journal, have focused attention on an illegal practice that is yet another public agency subterfuge to avoid accountability."
In separate articles published on October 6, 2022, The Courier and WFPL examined the lawsuit filed by the 490 Project -- a grassroots group focused on police accountability.
The group alleged that LMPD's refusal to comply with its statutory duty to take final action on open records requests within five business days — by disclosing nonexempt public records or identifying the legal basis for nondisclosure — violated the open records law.
"But," the Kentucky Open Government Coalition emphasized, “in a first of its kind claim, the group alleges that LMPD has subverted the intent of the open records law through the premature and illegal destruction of public records — in this case, complaints leveled against police officer that LMPD designates 'informal' — in contravention of state law governing the minimum retention of those records."
"This critical public records abuse has largely evaded public notice but has long been employed by public agencies as a means of evading public accountability."
In an April 19 press release, The 490 Project announced that as part of the settlement, Louisville Metro has agreed to release 400 citizen complaints against LMPD officers — with limited redactions for personally identifying information and juveniles names — within 14 days.
The press release makes no reference to the ongoing audit of Louisville Metro records keeping practices that the dispute prompted, but it underscores The 490 Project’s continuing efforts to open to the public the collective bargaining negotiations currently underway between the River City Fraternal Order of Police, LMPD, and Louisville.
WFPL News notes that as part of the settlement, Louisville Metro has agreed to pay $15,256 to The 490 Project in attorneys’ fees and costs.
As the Kentucky Open Government Coalition observed in its October 2022 op-ed:
“Without effective public records management there can be no public records access.
“Louisville Metro Police Department is walking on very thin legal ice. The law is clear.”
Today’s settlement confirms Louisville Metro’s recognition that the prospect of protracted litigation at taxpayer expense to evade clear and unambiguous statutory duties is a no-win proposition.