April 26, 2024

According to the Federal Reserve, there are over 300,000 government employees in Kentucky.  That’s a lot. And their work product may be accessible to the public.

Public access to government documents is important, because… well… they work for us!

That’s why in 1967 Kentucky’s General Assembly enacted the Open Records Act, to assure the right of public access to the records of public agencies. The act can be found in KRS 61.870 through KRS 61.884, and the underlying public policy is that government workers work for the people, thus the people needs to be able to inspect their work.

There are exceptions to the open nature of public records codified in KRS 61.878, but the general rule is that public records are open for public view.  This is a very powerful tool that encourages transparency, and thus serves to hold government agents accountable.

Public records are defined as “all books, papers, maps, photographs, cards, tapes, discs, diskettes, recordings, software, or other documentation regardless of physical form or characteristics, which are prepared, owned, used in the possession of or retained by a public agency.” KRS 61.870 (2).

Anyone who makes a public records request must be responded to within five days of making that request, excluding weekends and holidays. If a records request is denied, the agency must provide written notice as to why the request was denied. Anyone denied access to public records can ask the Attorney General’s office to review the denial, or file a petition for review in the Circuit Court where government agency has its principal place of business.

The Attorney General’s Office can issue a decision that the Open Records Act was violated, but it has no enforcement authority.  However, a person who is denied access to public records can file a lawsuit directly in Circuit Court where the agency’s principal place of business is located, and any decision rendered by the Attorney General’s Office may be helpful to your case in Circuit Court. (You do not need to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office first.  You can go directly to Circuit Court if a government agency is denying you access to public records.)

A Circuit Court can order the public agency to produce the records.  If there is a finding that the records were intentionally destroyed, the person destroyed the records faces a Class A misdemeanor (up to one year in jail) for each instance.  The Circuit Court may also award the prevailing party a reasonable amount of attorney’s fees, and levy a fine against the agency of $25 per day for each day they have refused to provide the documents. Finally, if an official fails to produce disputed records after entry of a final judgment, he or she may be held in contempt of Court, which could also result in jail time, or monetary penalty.