Local News Politics

AG’s Office Rules Form Letters Cannot Delay Open Records

Form letters are not the proper way to delay a response to an Open Records request in Kentucky. That’s the legal opinion of the attorney general’s office.

On April 4th, Thomas Clifford sought medical records relating to himself from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services in Frankfort. The cabinet had three days to respond, but instead used a form letter to inform Clifford it would need more time because he had failed to submit a specific form required to obtain medical records.

Clifford appealed to the attorney general’s office, which agrees Clifford must submit the proper form.

But Attorney General Jack Conway is also chastising the cabinet for its continuing use of form letters to get around the three-day Open Records response rule. Conway says he doesn’t have the power to compel the cabinet to cease the practice, but the courts do “and in the face of a pattern of non-compliance, may well elect to do so.”

Any party aggrieved by the decision may appeal to circuit court.

Local News Politics

Judge Rules for Marathon in Gouging Case

A Frankfort judge, in a price gouging case against Marathon Petroleum, has refused to force the oil company to roll back gas prices in Kentucky.

In the wake of April flooding, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway accused Marathon Petroleum of price gouging during a State of Emergency declared on April 26th.

Conway wanted Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate to order Marathon to roll back gas prices to pre-emergency levels, but Wingate has refused to do so.

In a 10-page order, Wingate says Conway failed to prove Marathon’s price increases were unrelated to any increased cost to the seller, despite the oil giant’s admitted use of the spot market to set those prices.

Although the request for injunctive relief is denied, the original price gouging case against Marathon, initiated in 2007 in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, continues.

Local News Politics

Attorney General’s Opinion Does Not Change Court Records Access

A recent decision from the Kentucky Attorney General’s office regarding the Open Records Act is unlikely to have any larger ramifications.

The office declared this week that court records are not subject to the state’s Open Records Act. The decision came in response to a case out of Paducah. A man who was denied documents by a district court clerk appealed the rejection as a violation of the Open Records Act.

It’s true that the act—which was passed by the legislative branch—does not regulate the judicial branch. But the state and federal constitutions do, and attorney Jon Fleischaker says that mandate is stronger than the Open Records Act.

“What he needs to do is go back to the court and say ‘I’m entitled to those under the First Amendment and the equivalent Kentucky law’ and see what happens there. And then you can take that up to an appellate court if you don’t get satisfaction from the district court,” he says.

Fleischaker says the attorney general’s opinion is unlikely to have any effect beyond the case that prompted it. Court records may still be closed through a court ruling, however.

Local News

Court Records Not Open Records

Update: The Attorney General’s decision is unlikely to affect the openness of court records.

The Kentucky attorney general’s office says court records are not subject to the state’s Open Records Act.

A Paducah case is at the heart of the opinion. Anton Thomas sought any and all records, statements and documents pertaining to a September 2009 McCracken County District Court hearing.

He was provided a copy of the hearing by the district court clerk, but when denied further documentation, Thomas appealed under the Kentucky Open Records Act.

But an attorney general’s opinion says documents in the custody of district and circuit court clerks are properly characterized as court records, and not subject to the Open Records Act.

The opinion says “disputes relating to access to court records, must be resolved by the courts.”  Any party aggrieved by the opinion may appeal to circuit court.

Local News

University Physicians Associates Declared Public Agency

Despite protestations to the contrary, University Physicians Associates at the University of Louisville School of Medicine is a public agency.  At least that’s the opinion of the state attorney general’s office.

Under Kentucky’s Open Records Act, Louisville-Courier Journal reporter Tom Loftus sought five years of documentation on employees, salaries and other financial matters at University Physicians Associates in Louisville.

His request was denied, with UPA asserting it’s a private, non-profit corporation that does not meet the definitions of a public agency.

Loftus and the Courier-Journal appealed, asserting UPA and the University of Louisville essentially act as one and the same, and UPA’s stated goal is to advance the charitable and educational purposes of the university.

The attorney general’s office agrees, and says UPA is in violation of the state’s Open Records Act.  Any party aggrieved by the opinion may appeal to circuit court.

Local News Politics

AG’s Office Rules That Tourism Officials Cannot Withhold Ark Encounter Studies

The Kentucky Attorney General’s office has ruled that state tourism officials cannot withhold information about a Bible-themed amusement park without giving a justification.

State Representative Darryl Owens of Louisville had sought economic impact studies for a northern Kentucky park that would present a literal interpretation of the biblical flood story. The park has received preliminary approval for up to $37 million in tax incentives. Owens’s open records request for the economic studies was denied, because tourism officials said the documents were proprietary.

The Attorney Genera’s office says the Tourism Department did not successful prove the records are confidential.

Owens says he plans to file another request. Tourism officials are studying the opinion.

Additional information from the Associated Press

Local News Politics

March Against Hunger Begins In Two Weeks

Law firms in Kentucky and Indiana are preparing to compete to raise money and food for regional food banks.

The competition is called March Against Hunger. The firms that raise the most food and money in the last two weeks of March win trophies.

Firms in both states raised more than 100 tons of food in the last two competitions, and Dare to Care Executive Director Brian Riendeau says reliance on food banks continues to increase.

“The fact is we know that we are not reaching everybody who needs our services. We know that right here in this service area there are a lot of folks who lack enough food to live a normal healthy life,” he says.

“The Commonwealth of Kentucky ranks 14th highest in the nation in the number of food insecure children under the age of 18.  Kentucky ranks 4th highest in the nation in the number of food insecure children under the age of 5,” says Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway.

Dare to Care is one of about a dozen food banks that benefit from the March Against Hunger. Last year, area banks distributed some 60 million pounds of food in the Louisville area on both sides of the river.

Local News Politics

AmeriHealth To Pay Kentucky $2 Million

Amerihealth Mercy–the company that administers Medicaid in Jefferson and surrounding counties–will pay $2 million to the state.

AmeriHealth handles day-to-day operations for Passport Health Plan. Their payment to the state comes after a nine-month investigation by Attorney General Jack Conway’s office. Conway says AmeriHealth falsified cervical cancer screenings in order to receive a bonus from the state.

“We started this out as a potential criminal investigation, and we decided in looking at the evidence that it was pretty clear there was some evidence there were improper actions but it didn’t’ really rise to the level of a criminal case we thought a grand jury would indict and we could win. Nevertheless, it made for a very, very strong civil fraud case,” says Conway.

As is standard in Medicaid fraud cases, the payment to the state is triple the amount of the bonus Amerihealth received. AmeriHealth is still under contract with Passport.

“So I think some attention is going to be paid to this in the future,” says Conway. “But as far as criminal activity arising out of these particular circumstances, I think this pretty much dispenses with it.”

Passport was recently the subject of a scathing audit that found mismanagement and improper spending. Conway says his office is investigating allegations from the audit as well.

“There are other issues, other matters related to the Passport audit,” he says. “One specific issue related to the transfer of some payments between the entities that my office continues to examine to see if they were proper or not.”

Local News Politics

Kentucky Primary Races Set

The filing deadline for public office in Kentucky has officially passed, confirming the lineup for this year’s statewide races. The primary is May 17th.

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There are seven statewide offices on the ballot this year – Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, State Auditor, State Treasurer and Commissioner of Agriculture. And now that Secretary of State Trey Grayson has officially closed the door on filing, the races are set.

The Agriculture Commissioner’s race drew the most candidates, five Democrats and two Republicans. The Democrats are Bob Farmer of Louisville, John Lackey of Richmond, David Williams of Glasgow, Stewart Gritton of Lawrenceburg and B.D. Wilson of Frankfort. The Republicans are Rob Rothenburger of Shelbyville and Rep. James Comer of Tompkinsville.

“I’m a full-time farmer,” said Comer. “I’m a citizen-legislator, as you know. I’ve been a representative for 10 years, but my background is agriculture.”

Three candidates, two Republicans and one Democrat, qualified to run for Auditor of Public Accounts. The Republicans are Rep. Addia Wuchner of Florence and John Kemper of Lexington. The Democrat is Adam Edelen of Lexington.

“We’re going to be well-financed,” said Edelen. “We’re going to be well-organized and I’m not going to be outworked in this campaign.”

The State Treasurer’s race features two Democrats and one Republican. Both Democrats – Steve Hamrick and incumbent Treasurer Todd Hollenbach – are from Louisville. The Republican is K.C. Crosbie of Lexington.

“Bills have to be paid, and they invest,” said Crosbie. “And so, it’s a tremendous opportunity,” said Crosbie. “I’ve looked into it. I’ve done a lot of research and I think there’s also a lot of great things that we can do to improve the office.”

Republican Todd P’Pool of Madisonville is running for Attorney General. So is Democratic incumbent Jack Conway, who was defeated by Rand Paul in last year’s grueling U.S. Senate race.

“I certainly took a look on the other side of the fence,” said Conway. “I took a look and tried to envision what my life would be like. How I would serve out a year as AG. What I would want to do after that. And thought about it. And I just made the decision that felt right in my gut.”

Secretary of State Trey Grayson is leaving office early for a job at Harvard University. The governor’s choice to finish Grayson’s term is Elaine Walker of Bowling Green. Walker also wants a full four-year term, but first she must defeat Alison Lundergan Grimes of Lexington in the Democratic primary.

“I’ve worked with the office of Secretary of State regularly and know how to make it work better,” said Grimes. “I think it’s time for a new generation to take the reins for fresh leadership and energy and enthusiasm. And as I travel across the state, I think that’s something that the citizens of the commonwealth will see.”

Also vying for Secretary of State are Republicans Bill Johnson of Elkton and Hilda Legg of Somerset.

In his bid for re-election, Gov. Steve Beshear escaped without Democratic primary opposition, but three Republicans want his job. They are: Senate President David Williams, Louisville businessman Phil Moffett and Jefferson County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw.

“It’s been a blame game,” said Holsclaw. “David Williams blames Steve Beshear. Steve Beshear blames David Williams. And I’ve come to the conclusion, and really what put me over the edge, is the fact – they’re both right. They both are at fault. And I think it’s time for a change. I think it’s time that Kentucky deserves to have the opportunity to speak.”

Holsclaw’s running mate is Bill Vermillion of Caneyville. Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer is running with Senator Williams and Phil Moffett’s running mate is Rep. Mike Harmon of Junction City. Gov. Beshear’s running mate is former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson.

Gatewood Galbraith of Lexington and his running mate, Dea Riley of Shelbyville, are still collecting signatures for their independent gubernatorial bid.

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Otis “Bullman” Hensley of Harlan was a no-show. But Letcher County Democrat Ellis Keyes appeared at the last minute, wanting to run for governor. When told he needed a running mate, he scrambled around the Capitol looking for one, but ran out of time.

Local News Politics

Candidate Filing Deadline For 2011 Is Tuesday

Tuesday is the deadline to file to run for office in this year’s elections in Kentucky. As WFPL’s Gabe Bullard reports, interest in this year’s races is lower than it was last year.

There were many more races on the ballot last year, and that drew hundreds of candidates. And the posts up for election ranged from county clerks to Congressional seats. Just state races and special elections are on the ballot this year. But Secretary of State spokesperson Les Fugate says that doesn’t mean the hours before the deadline will be dull.

“You’ll see a lot of action, probably in the final days on the secretary of state’s race, the attorney general’s race, maybe even the auditor’s race,” he says. “We’re not expecting too many more filings for governor, but you never know who might be out there.”

Fugate further attributes the surge of candidates last year to dissatisfaction in the federal government.

“Federal offices were kind of what was driving a lot of the interest, and federal dealings were driving a lot of the interest in races in 2010,” he says. “That kind of reached down to all of the races at the local level. That fervor has dissipated a little bit.”