A search for truth in the face of Cabinet for Health and Family Services obfuscation that began over a decade ago — and culminated in a scathing 2016 appellate opinion — continues.
Recent events in Barren County, Kentucky suggest that the Cabinet learned nothing from the Kentucky Court of Appeals’ 2016 rebuke — not to mention the award of $1M+ in penalties and attorneys fees to the newspapers — in Cabinet for Health and Family Services v. The Courier–Journal, Inc.; and Lexington H–L Services, Inc., d/b/a The Lexington Herald–Leader. Indeed, it appears the Cabinet continues to heaped insult onto injury by withholding public records and making misrepresentations to the court — repeating its past offenses.
Courier Journal reporter Debby Yetter — who, along with Lexington Herald-Leader reporter Bill Estep and Todd County Standard editor Ryan Craig, dared to request “inconvenient” public records and ask “embarrassing” questions about the tragic deaths of neglected and abused children under the Cabinet’s supervision — today reports:
““A Barren County Family Court Judge has found the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services in contempt of court for the second time in three months — this time over its failure to follow a court order to return a child to her mother in another state.
“In a blistering order made public Monday, Judge Micah Wood Pence also found two cabinet employees in contempt for lying under oath at a hearing about their role in the case, recommending authorities look into ‘whatever criminal sanctions they deem to be appropriate.’
“And she directed a formal complaint to the Kentucky Bar Association against the cabinet's lawyer, Jennifer Clay, for alleged unethical behavior in the case including possible ‘malpractice.’
“‘Clay attempted to blame local Barren County employees instead of higher-ups at the agency and wrongly withheld emails the judge requested, citing attorney-client privilege,’ Pence's order said.”
A timely reminder to the Cabinet — which appears to suffer from bureaucratic amnesia — that the court’s holding in 2016 applies with equal force today:
“The Cabinet's conduct in this case was egregious. The face of the record reveals the ‘culture of secrecy’ of which the trial court spoke; and it evinces an obvious and misguided belief that the Open Records Act is merely an ideal – a suggestion to be taken when it is convenient and flagrantly disregarded when it is not. We could not disagree more.
“‘Publicity,’ Justice Brandeis tells us, ‘is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.’
“We affirm the trial court, but we also echo its exasperation at the Cabinet's systematic and categorical disregard for the rule of law – both as codified in the Open Records Act and as handed down by the Franklin Circuit Court.
“The Open Records Act is neither an ideal nor a suggestion. It is the law. Public entities must permit inspection of public records as required or risk meaningful punishment for noncompliance. Rigid adherence to this stark principle is the lifeblood of a law which rightly favors disclosure, fosters transparency, and secures the public trust.”