Attorney General of Kentucky files complaint against University of Kentucky in open records case

KENTUCKY — Kentucky’s attorney general says the commonwealth’s flagship university is willingly violating the law by refusing to hand over documents for the attorney general’s review.

The University of Kentucky’s lack of cooperation, as stated in a motion filed by state Attorney General Andy Beshear’s office on Wednesday, goes deeper. After a faculty member resigned in the wake of sexual harassment accusations, UK’s student-run newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, submitted an open-records request for the documents surrounding the investigation.

UK only provided some of the documentation, but refused to turn over the rest, claiming the documents were preliminary and citing attorney-client privilege. When the newspaper appealed to the state attorney general, the university also refused a request to turn over the documents so the attorney general’s office could verify the legitimacy of its decision to not comply with the initial request.

Since that request, the university has claimed that a written complaint, previously noted by the university, doesn’t exist. It also cited the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act in refusing to turn over some of the documents to the attorney general’s office, claiming concern for the complainants.

Beshear’s office later ordered the university to turn over documents with the names of the complainants, who had accused the professor of sexual harassment, redacted. 

“The University of Kentucky unlawfully withheld potentially substantiating documents from the Attorney General, severely impairing the Attorney General’s ability to render a reasoned open records decision,” the motion reads.

The motion requests that the court order the university to turn over documents to the AG’s office so that it can consider the Kernel’s appeal of the university’s decision to reject its request. Beshear had requested the documents for an in camera review “in attempting to substantiate the University’s basis for denying the Kernel’s request.”

The motion also expressed concern that the university would continue to knowingly flout the law.

“The University’s unreasonable and unlawful withholding of the requested documents established that the Commonwealth’s rights to have been violated, and that the University will continue its pattern of unlawful behavior in this manner unless permanently enjoined by the Court,” the complaint reads.

As to his expectations for the case’s outcome, Beshear left little doubt.

“The University’s violation of Kentucky law is so blatant that there is a high likelihood that the Commonwealth will prevail in full trial on the merits of this action,” the motion reads.

In the meantime, the Kernel began a crowdsourced fundraising effort to defray the cost of its legal defense against a lawsuit filed by the university, and has raised over $11,000 since the campaign launched last week.

The Kernel independently obtained the documents in question from a source close to the investigation, and has previously reported that the complainants want the documents to be distributed publicly, albeit with names redacted. The motion to intervene is noticed for September 16, and was filed in the Fayette County Circuit Court September 7.

SPLC staff writer Lev Facher can be reached by email or (202) 974-6318

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