Judge Delays Ruling in WKU Open Records Lawsuit

May 15, 2017

Warren County Justice Center

A Warren County judge has delayed a ruling in a case between Western Kentucky University and its student newspaper.  WKU requested a stay in its lawsuit against the College Heights Herald over an open records dispute. 

The university has denied requests from the newspaper to turn over redacted documents from sexual misconduct investigations involving campus employees.  WKU argues the documents are protected under federal law and not subject to disclosure under the state’s Open Records Act.

WKU had requested its lawsuit be put on hold until the state Court of Appeals issues a ruling on a similar case from the University of Kentucky.

Attorney General Andy Beshear found that WKU violated the state’s Open Records Act and intervened in the lawsuit as a plaintiff.  Beshear asked the court to deny the school's motion.  In a response to the motion, Beshear said the issues in WKU's case are "distinct and independent" from those in the UK case.” 

The two sides squared off in Warren Circuit Court on Monday.  Attorney Tom Kerrick, representing WKU, said the school is concerned that even redacted information will not protect victims. 

"Even if you do redact names and personal information, today with Googling and social media, it doesn't take too much effort to still determine who these individuals are," Kerrick stated.

Judge Steve Wilson ordered WKU to provide him un-redacted copies of the records for him to determine if the documents can be redacted properly. 

Attorney Michael Abate, representing the College Heights Herald, said no one is trying to disclose the identity of victims.

"It's about understanding what happened and how the university investigated, or not, serious claims against faculty and staff, and so I think that's extremely important," stated Abate.  "Other universities have had no problem disclosing redacted information that protected student privacy."

The school was given 60 days to turn over the hundreds of documents to Judge Wilson.