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Judge to hear sides in open records dispute

By Jessica Paine | Jan. 24, 2024

MURRAY – A 15-month conflict between Paducah television station WPSD-TV and Murray State University over public records, which has resulted in an appeal to the Kentucky Attorney General as well as the filing of a civil lawsuit, may come to an end today as the parties are scheduled for a summary judgment hearing this afternoon. 

WPSD filed the suit against MSU in Calloway Circuit Court in March of last year over the university’s redactions to public records it produced in response to two open records requests (ORR) submitted by the television station in fall 2022. Aside from MSU’s initial response to the complaint, there was no action in the case until WPSD filed its motion for summary judgment on Nov. 13, 2023. 

In a civil lawsuit, a party may bring a motion for summary judgment before the court when it believes there are no material facts to dispute in the case. A motion for summary judgment is similar to a motion to dismiss in that it is a dispositive motion; however, a motion to dismiss is a request for the judge to assess the merits of the initial complaint, whereas a motion for summary judgment takes all pleadings filed in a case into consideration in addition to any evidence or affidavits that would be presented at trial. 

In its motion, WPSD accused MSU of willfully violating the Kentucky Open Records Act (KORA), claiming that “a cursory review” of MSU’s redactions shows willful misapplication of the exemptions permissible under KORA, and concluding the university’s intention has been “to withhold information it would rather not see the light of day.”

The university’s response to the motion characterizes the television station’s lawsuit against the university as “nothing more than an attempt to harass and unduly burden (MSU), and this Court, in hopes of generating a story that does not exist.”

Murray State has produced over 1,000 pages of records since November 2022, including 52 pages on Nov. 4, 87 pages on Nov. 29, over 750 pages on Dec. 19 and 162 pages on Feb. 16, 2023, and has continued to produce records over the pendency of the litigation, as recently as Oct. 3. WPSD, however, still disputes the redactions on 21 records, taking issue with the university’s use of attorney-client privilege, preliminary records and personal privacy exemptions to justify its redactions. 

The motion includes the image of a heavily-redacted email produced by MSU for which it claimed the preliminary records exemption as well as the image of an unredacted version of the same email, which WPSD reporters obtained from a different source. 

“It is clear there is nothing at all ‘preliminary’ discussed in the email,” the pleading states, adding it is a directive from university administrators to an employee* to keep them apprised of any developments regarding a specific situation. 

WPSD contends that, even though the university eventually unredacted the body of that email, “it is still willfully refusing to un-redact the name and email address of the MSU administrator that was forwarded this email thread by preposterously claiming that that information is somehow ‘preliminary’ to a policy decision yet to be made by MSU.” 

In its response, MSU argues that it properly withheld preliminary records and properly redacted records pursuant to the attorney-client privilege and personal privacy exemptions. The university further argues that there is no basis for WPSD’s claim that it willfully violated KORA as it acted in good faith to comply with its obligations. 

“What began with WPSD’s attempts to obtain documents … has devolved into litigation challenging discrete, inconsequential redactions MSU made in the hundreds of pages of records it produced,” the response states, adding, “the redacted information has nothing to do with WPSD’s actual requests.” 

Referring specifically to its redaction of forwarding information on transitory emails, the response states that, “had MSU understood that these redactions served as the basis for WPSD’s apparent belief that MSU has violated the Open Records Act, MSU would have offered the benign emails … in a show of good faith in order to extinguish WPSD’s concerns that these emails somehow contained material responsive to its requests.”

WPSD’s motion also requests that the court review unredacted versions of the disputed records.

“WPSD is not required to simply take MSU’s redactions at their word,” the motion states. “Because WPSD cannot view the responsive records in question, this Court should determine the propriety of MSU’s remaining redactions.”

MSU’s response states no objection to that request; however, it does note that the redaction logs and attorney-client privilege logs previously provided to WPSD which were filed as exhibits to the motion for summary judgment should be sufficient to provide the context necessary to determine the appropriateness of MSU’s redactions.

The hearing on WPSD’s motion for summary judgment is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. today. Although it is a Calloway Circuit Court case, the hearing will take place at the Christian County Justice Center in Hopkinsville before Christian Circuit Judge John Atkins. Atkins was appointed as special judge to preside over the case after Calloway Circuit Judge Andrea Moore recused herself due to a conflict of interest.

Editor’s note: The above-referenced employee is Chad Lampe, who now serves on the Sentinel’s Board of Directors. This story was written and published without input or review from the board.  

Sentinel Staff

Jessica Paine
I’m Jessica Paine, founder of The Murray Sentinel. You may know me from my time as a citizen journalist, running the Calloway Covid-19 Count page on Facebook, or you may be familiar with my more recent work for another local news outlet. Being that I’m “from here,” you may have known me since I was “knee-high to a grasshopper,” although you knew me as Jessica Jones. But whether you know me or not, I’m glad you found your way here.

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