- Associated Press - Saturday, October 29, 2016

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A judge has ordered West Virginia’s attorney general to release 89 documents about the merger of two hospitals in Huntington.

Media reports say Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office has four days to appeal the ruling that he release about one-quarter of the documents he has withheld from public view relating to his investigation into the hospital merger.

In his order Friday, Kanawha County Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman said the public has a right to know about the “hotly-contested merger of Cabell Huntington Hospital and St. Mary’s Medical Center, which will virtually tie up the health care market of the Cabell County region.”

Morrisey has fought for more than a year to shield the documents from the public.

Kaufman’s ruling follows his behind-closed-doors review of 349 documents that Morrisey has refused to release.

Steel of West Virginia, a Huntington company that sued Morrisey for the records, recently withdrew its request for 260 of those documents, leaving 89 records under dispute.

“The records that Judge Kaufman has ordered disclosed underscore why transparency is so important, and why Judge Kaufman’s ruling serves the public interest,” said Timothy Duke, president and CEO of Steel of West Virginia.

Kaufman issued a stay on his ruling that blocks the release of the hospital merger documents until Thursday, giving Morrisey’s office a chance to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

A Morrisey spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

Morrisey has asserted that he can keep most of the documents under wraps because they were part of an antitrust investigation into the proposed merger. Other documents were “internal memoranda” and not subject to release, Morrisey’s lawyers said.

Kaufman dismissed both arguments Friday.

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