University Sues Student Newspaper To Prevent Release Of Sexual Assault Investigation Documents

from the stop-asking,-they-sued dept

Government transparency is once again in default operation mode. If you want the records you're seeking, you're welcome to sue us. Or, in this case, the government is more than happy to sue the requester, if that's what it takes to keep records from being released.

The University of Kentucky is suing its own student newspaper.

This comes after a five-month-long battle between UK and its student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, over open records relating to reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment by a university professor.

The student newspaper has asked for copies of investigative documents related to the assault and harassment allegations. The university has refused to hand over the requested documents, claiming doing so would violate the privacy of the accusers. It has continued to withhold the documents despite being told to release them by the state attorney general.

[T]he state attorney general ruled that UK should release the records with the names and personal identifiers of those involved omitted. But the university denied the request on the basis that it would be an invasion of privacy. The refusal is a violation of Kentucky’s Open Records Act, which states the university is not exempt from releasing these records once the investigation is closed…

The Kentucky Kernel isn't seeking to expose personal information. In fact, it already has copies of some of the documents, thanks to an anonymous source. But it's seeking the officially-redacted version from the university. If the school hopes to keep this version out of the student paper's hands, it needs to obtain a ruling that contradicts the state attorney general's decision. Hence the lawsuit, which isn't seeking monetary damages, but rather a declaration that the documents can be withheld in full.

In fact, the university is hoping to keep the documents from ending up anywhere else at all.

A university spokesman, Jay Blanton, told BuzzFeed News Aug. 23 that “Our University cannot — and should not — decide when it is appropriate to violate a victim-survivor’s privacy — and a victim-survivor’s trust — by providing information to the Office of the Attorney General, the Kernel(our student newspaper), or any other entity.”

One has to wonder why the university is so worried about the release of these documents. If it's done nothing wrong, then it has nothing to hide, right? It may be saying things about privacy, but the student newspaper already has a policy in place to withhold personal information about victims of sexual assault. And, once again, the paper is not seeking an unredacted copy that might expose this information if handed over by the school.

So, the excessive secrecy seems to indicate there's something in these documents that might make the school look bad. This could be due to the way it handled the investigation. Or maybe the school protected a staff member for far too long, only choosing to look into allegations once they could no longer be ignored. Whatever the case is, the optics are always bad when a public entity takes a requester to court to thwart an open records request.

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Filed Under: foia, investigation, journalism, sexual assault
Companies: university of kentucky


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  1. icon
    DannyB (profile), 1 Sep 2016 @ 6:22am

    Re: Ah the ever popular 'Shut up' lawsuit...

    It reminds me of something I think I've heard before:

    "If you've done nothing wrong, you've got nothing to hide."

    Or, if you've done nothing wrong, you don't have to worry about anything showing up on WikiLeaks. What happens in Vegas, stays on YouTube.

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