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The Cabinet for Health and Family Services has responded as we expected: going to court in Shelby County to prevent you from knowing what you have a right to know about how well it protected Jackleen Lane.
The Cabinet does not want to conform to a judgment in September by the office of Attorney General Jack Conway that it violated state Open Records laws by denying to release to The Sentinel-News records concerning its oversight of Ms. Lane.
Jackleen Lane, 15, was found June 17 floating in Clear Creek on the east end of Shelbyville. She had been there, investigators said, for about three days. There was no trauma to her body, and an autopsy found there were no narcotics in her system. Her death was ruled an accidental drowning, and the Shelbyville Police Department all but has closed the case.
Yet, there were no clear answers about why Ms. Lane would be in that creek, about why her court-appointed guardian, her brother, Joshua Lane, had not reported that he had not heard from her for at least three days and about how she came to be miles from the Shelby County Fairgrounds, where Mr. Lane said he had thought his sister was going the prior Friday night.
Perhaps there is no criminal reason to continue to ask questions about Ms. Lane, but we think it is criminal, in fact, not to have asked even more pertinent questions, the answers to which the Cabinet does not want the public to see.
Jackleen Lane was removed from the care of her mother, Pauline Lane Likes, in 2012 after Ms. Likes was charged with violation of truancy laws and failure to send her daughter to school. Jackleen Lane had been absent 36 days in that school year.
That’s when Joshua Lane became – at the Cabinet’s suggestion, we would presume – her custodial guardian, but certainly there were more issues that must have caused the courts to take such a bold and important step in trying to ensure that a seemingly wayward teenager had proper care and oversight.
After all, that’s why we have a Cabinet for Health and Family Services, to protect the innocent and ensure that their best interests and, ultimately, their safety are intact.
Obviously, given Ms. Lane’s demise, the Cabinet failed in that ultimate duty.
Whatever steps officials took to attempt to ensure her safety were not sufficient. That Ms. Likes was deemed irresponsible, unfit or something else is a clue, but the fact that Joshua Lane, a man with admitted criminal and lifestyle troubles, was the solution brings even greater questions.
How well was Mr. Lane investigated? How well was Jackleen Lane’s placement overseen? How abreast of her life were social workers who had been assigned to her case?
In fact, how efficiently and effectively was the Cabinet spending the tax dollars it has been assigned for those basic tasks?
How do we know there are not other Jackleen Lanes out there, children supervised by the Cabinet who are not in fact living safe lives? Is there a hole in that safety net the Cabinet is supposed to have in place?
The Cabinet is not new to these questions, and its lawyers fight at every turn from answering to its bosses – you, the taxpayer. The Cabinet only wants to conduct closed investigations out of any level of public scrutiny, its records held in a vault more guarded than the gold bullion in Fort Knox.
The attorney general has told it to open its records when a death has occurred. Gov. Steve Beshear has spoken to the point of transparency, even if he has not enforced that position. The courts have upheld those opinions and cited the Cabinet for contempt. These have not been deterrents.
There appear no checks and balances on the Cabinet’s work. We are left to believe Cabinet officials believe they are above the law and not accountable to the public it is supposed to serve.
So, once again, in the sad case of Jackleen Lane, legal advisors within the Cabinet have determined that it is more appropriate to spend thousands more of your dollars in billable expenses to pursue in court the maintenance of the iron curtain within which it prefers to operate.
Someone has decided that spending that money is more important than turning a spotlight on the investigative processes that appear to have failed Ms. Lane.
Maybe we are wrong. Maybe the Cabinet did everything right along the way and Ms. Lane’s drowning truly is an inexplicable and awful act of teenage serendipity.
That could be the case, but we wonder, if it were, would the Cabinet be so adamant in its efforts to hide the facts.