LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky’s Supreme Court justices have established an open records policy to guide the media and public in seeking access to administrative information in the state courts.
It’s the first open records policy for the Administrative Office of the Courts, and helps fill a gap in Kentucky’s Open Records Act, which does not apply to the judicial branch of state government.
Kentucky Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. said the judiciary has “long complied with the spirit” of the open records law but it is “time to formalize our commitment into written policy.”
“What was our custom now is the law,” he said.
The AOC is the administrative arm of Kentucky’s court system. It administers the budget for the judicial branch, is responsible for court facilities, maintaining court statistics, administering personnel policies and payroll. AOC has an annual general fund budget of nearly $75.8 million.
First Amendment expert and Louisville lawyer Jon Fleischaker said Friday that the policy isn’t as comprehensive as the open records law, but it’s a “very good step forward” that “signals a real intent on the part of the judiciary to open up its administrative process.”
“Everything up to now has been ad hoc,” he said. “There’s been no policy. So depending on what you ask for and who you asked, you might get a variety of answers.
“Now what you’ve got is a firm policy,” he added. “It’s going to make it more consistent. You ought to be able to get information that you haven’t gotten in the past.”
Unanimously approved by the Supreme Court justices, the policy comes in the wake of criticism that the AOC staged employee-only auctions of surplus vehicles.
Reports on those sales by the Lexington Herald-Leader prompted an investigation by Attorney General Andy Beshear’s office. At the chief justice’s request, state Auditor Mike Harmon’s office will separately review the court system’s finances. Minton also set new guidelines for the disposal of surplus AOC property, limiting employee purchases to the same terms available to the public, and barring purchases by AOC employees and managers overseeing their sales.
The Lexington newspaper reported in the spring that the AOC, citing an ongoing investigation, refused its request for additional information about the auctions. Fleischaker said he wasn’t immediately clear on whether the new policy would have led to a different outcome.
The new policy, effective Aug. 15, describes how to submit an open records request to AOC. Requests can be emailed to email@example.com. AOC will respond within three business days on whether to comply with or deny the request.
The AOC also provides judicial branch salary information and financial expenditures on transparency.ky.gov — the state’s government spending website.
The AOC policy does not apply to criminal and civil case records, which have always been considered public unless made confidential by law or ordered sealed by a judge. Circuit and district court records are available from circuit court clerk’s offices. Supreme Court and Court of Appeals records are available from their respective clerks.