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We might be appearing to gloat if we were to claim a great victory in the decision last week by Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway’s office that would require the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to release its investigative records about the life of Jackleen Lane.
Certainly The Sentinel-News pursued those records as it sought to understand how a 15-year-old girl would be missing from home for three days without any questions being asked and then to be found dead, having drowned in remote area of Clear Creek.
But this is not victory for the newspaper. It’s a victory for you, a victory for the laws of open records under which you are allowed to keep checks on our leaders and for the rights of all of us to ensure that our children are protected.
You no doubt are aware of the death of Ms. Lane, ruled an accidental drowning despite hazy circumstances surrounding her presence near the creek, much less submerged in it.
In pursuing information about Ms. Lane’s background, the newspaper only has wanted to grasp the patterns and influences of that life and its minefields. Many have asked the questions, and as your representative, the newspaper only has sought the answers.
The Cabinet originally ignored the request, citing its usual bunkered approach to information about its work. It denied the original request and then argued vehemently in a memo to the AG’s office. But in that letter, the Cabinet also revealed that it was opening an investigation into Ms. Lane’s death, and the AG used its decision about the original request to order that the records for that investigation to be open, too.
Unfortunately, all of this doesn’t mean that the files on Ms. Lane would be arriving quickly for inspection by the newspaper. In fact, the Cabinet has 30 days to file an appeal of this ruling in either Franklin or Shelby Circuit Court. Without doubt, that appeal will be filed.
In Franklin County, the Cabinet already has been ordered to turn over records in a similar case involving a dead teenager. It has not complied and has been cited to be in contempt of court in its delaying tactics.
Jeremy Rogers, an attorney for Dinsmore and Shohl in Louisville, who consults with newspapers in Kentucky about open-records issues, speculated years could pass before the Cabinet would be compelled to follow the directives of those who have the power to direct them. We don’t dispute that likelihood. Justice sometime arrives with the alacrity of a snail.
Such delays are self-serving and proprietary and do nothing to help us understand Ms. Lane’s death. In fact, by its very inaction, the Cabinet only would serve to dishonor the victim of an already tragic death.
We understand the Cabinet presumes to be protecting the privacy of the young – we get that’s part of its role – but in this case, we would suggest that the Cabinet only is protecting itself.
There will be more confict before an ultimate victory can be claimed, but, for now, why don’t you celebrate the battle you’ve just won.