Judge Orders Cabinet for Health and Family Services Pay Fees

by Devin Katayama on January 20, 2012

The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) has been ordered to pay more $70,000 in penalties and attorney’s fees to three newspapers.

The papers, including the Courier-Journal, the Lexington Herald-Leader and the Todd County Standard, filed suit against the cabinet for not releasing adequate documents regarding child welfare cases.

The cabinet has been in litigation since 2010, when the court first ordered the cabinet to release certain documents that were requested. It’s been a battle ever since to see documents that advocates say would help determine how to improve Kentucky’s child welfare system.

Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd ordered the cabinet Thursday to pay the penalties because the cabinet’s decision was a willful denial to adhere to the court’s previous ruling, said Jon Fleischaker, attorney for the Courier Journal and the Todd County Standard.

Shepherd ordered the penalties, which includes $57,000 in attorney’s fees be paid. The judge’s decision did allow the cabinet to redact some information such as certain living victims and certain individuals who reported the abuse.

“The Judge recognized that the public’s interest in determining whether the Cabinet did its job is not compromised by respecting the confidentiality of those children who survived grievous injury and those citizens who come forward to report abuse or neglect,” wrote CHFS Secretary Janie Miller in an email.

But Fleischaker said the cabinet should not consider this ruling a vindication that the department is operating at an acceptable standard.

“This is a total defeat for the cabinet in terms of what the policy and the practices have been for the past several years.”

Fleischaker said he would be surprised if the cabinet didn’t appeal the penalties.

“I’ll be pleasantly surprised. I hope that they take this opportunity to put this all behind us and stop spending time and money fighting about things where they’ve been told time and again they’re wrong,” he said.

The cabinet is weighing its options on the judge’s ruling, but says it was “well worth the price.”

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