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Settlements in police misconduct cases must be released

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Settlements in police misconduct cases must be released04/22/96 KENTUCKY--An appeals court in Lexington in early April ordered a police department…

Settlements in police misconduct cases must be released

04/22/96

KENTUCKY–An appeals court in Lexington in early April ordered a police department to reveal to the Lexington Herald-Leader the details of all settlement agreements between the government and persons claiming negligence or misconduct by police officials.

The court concluded that a settlement’s confidentiality clause created no inherent right of privacy to which an exemption would extend. “[W]e find that a settlement of litigation between private citizens and a governmental entity is a matter of legitimate public concern which the public is entitled to scrutinize,” she opined.

The appeals judge also rejected the government’s analogy of confidential settlement agreements to documents created during permissibly closed meetings of government bodies.

While agreeing that matters involving “preparation, strategy, trial tactics, and confidential discussion between attorney and client” might properly be withheld, the court held that the government may not extend the litigation privilege to the end-product, “namely, the final settlement itself, which was not ordered sealed by the court below.”

The suit stemmed from an Open Records Act request in April last year by Herald-Leader reporter Robert Campbell to the Lexington Police Department for documents related to settlements between the department and persons who sued over alleged police misconduct.

Before Campbell’s suit, the government had provided him with printouts showing payments made by the government in connection with the lawsuits, but refused to release documents which identified certain claimants on the ground that the agreements contained confidentiality clauses protected by Kentucky law. Shortly thereafter, the government released copies of the agreements with the names of the complainants blacked out.

The newspaper sued in May 1995, and the trial court in Fayette ordered the release of the settlement agreements in their entirety.

On appeal, the government unsuccessfully argued that confidentiality clauses in the agreements exempted them from the Open Records Act and that their release would be an “unwarranted invasion of privacy.” (Lexington-Fayette Urban County Govt. v. Lexington Herald-Leader; Media Counsel: Robert Houlihan, Jr., James L. Thomerson, Lexington)