- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 2, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services is appealing a judge’s order that it release case files on children who were being monitored by the state when they died or nearly died from abuse or neglect.

The Courier-Journal and Lexington Herald-Leader sued for access to the documents after they were denied as part of an Open Records Act request.

Last year, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd found that the cabinet willfully circumvented the act by failing to fully release files on child abuse fatalities and near deaths. He fined the cabinet $756,000 and ordered payment more than $300,000 in attorney fees to the two newspapers.

The Courier-Journal reports (https://cjky.it/QFnTgr) Monday’s appeal asks that the case be transferred directly to the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Cabinet attorney Sheryl Snyder released a statement explaining the appeal, saying Shepherd’s ruling “has raised significant legal questions concerning the Open Records Act that need to be addressed by an appellate court.”

Snyder continued, “Public agencies are entitled to clear, final decisions by the courts.”

Courier-Journal Jon Fleischaker said on Tuesday that Shepherd’s decision is “solid,” and he expects it to be upheld.

“He spent a lot of time on it, and we think it was an appropriate decision,” Fleischaker said.

The state’s two largest newspapers have sought the records to examine whether child welfare officials were handling child abuse cases appropriately. Reports showed that roughly 30 Kentucky children die each year of abuse and neglect, ranking the state among the highest in the nation in its rate of deaths.

The legal battle has been dragging on for five years.

When Shepherd awarded attorney fees, he noted the dozens of children who died while under the cabinet’s supervision and said the court did not consider those deaths inevitable.

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Information from: The Courier-Journal, https://www.courier-journal.com

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