State Supreme Court agrees to review UK-Kernel lawsuit



Natalie Parks

Kentucky’s Supreme Court has agreed to consider hearing arguments in UK’s lawsuit against the Kernel.

UK motioned for discretionary review in their case against the Kernel, which was granted by the Supreme Court on December 13.

The Supreme Court will review a May 2019 decision in the Kentucky Court of Appeals that ruled largely in favor of the Kernel.

“We are not surprised that the Supreme Court wanted to consider the decision of the Court of appeals because it involves a matter of first impression, which in Kentucky is how the FERPA law impacts the Open Records Act as it applies to students at the university,” said Tom Miller, counsel for the Kernel. “We remain confident that the lower court judge and Court of Appeals agreed with us that the records are properly redacted to remove personal information of students, that records involving faculty members are subject to the Open Records Act and that the university should have provided the records requested in our case.”

UK’s case against the Kernel stems from a 2016 dispute over documents relating to a university-conducted sexual misconduct investigation of former professor James Harwood. Under the Kentucky Open Records Act, the Kernel requested documents related to the investigation, but was denied access by UK. 

The Kernel then appealed to former Attorney General Andy Beshear, whose statutory power allowed the state attorney general’s office to confidentially review documents. UK denied Beshear access to the records. Beshear said this was a violation of the Open Records law. UK then filed their suit against the Kernel as essentially an appeal of Beshear’s decision.

The initial decision from a Fayette County judge in January of 2017 ruled in favor of UK; the Kernel appealed this decision, leading to oral arguments before the Court of Appeals in September 2018.

The Kernel’s legal representation will have 60 days to file a brief for the Supreme Court to consider. UK will have 60 days after that to file a response.

UK spokesperson Jay Blanton said the university has no comment at this time.

This lawsuit was just one of three initially filed against the Kernel in its pursuit of documents related to sexual misconduct investigations at Kentucky universities. Western Kentucky University and Kentucky State University also filed suits against the Kernel after the newspaper requested documents from their institutions.