Category Archives: Better Laws

CPS Not Above The Law In Kentucky

.jpg photo of memorial for Child Abuse victim
Memorial to Amy Dye at Todd County elementary school.

Court slaps Ky for $1M over Child Abuse
records

Finding the public has a right to know about child-abuse deaths and serious injuries, a state Appeals Court panel has issued a forceful ruling in a case brought by the state’s two largest newspapers.

In a major rebuke to state officials who fought to withhold such records, the Appeals Court ruled the Cabinet for Health and Family Services must pay legal costs and penalties of nearly $1 million to The Courier-Journal and Lexington Herald-Leader.

Calling the cabinet’s conduct “egregious,” Appeals Court Judge Irv Maze, who wrote the opinion for the panel, said the case reveals “the culture of secrecy” at the cabinet and “its misguided belief that the Open Records Act is merely an ideal, a suggestion to be taken when it is convenient and flagrantly disregarded when it is not.”

“It’s a terrific ruling, just terrific,” said Jon Fleischaker, who represented The Courier-Journal in the case.  “We hope this puts an end to it.”

The administration of Gov. Matt Bevin on Friday blamed the outcome on his predecessor, Steve Beshear, whose officials denied access to the records in the case that dates back to 2010.

“The court’s opinion is based on a serious coverup during the Beshear administration that has now led to an unfortunate million-dollar liability for the commonwealth’s taxpayers,” Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto said.  “In the Bevin administration, things will be very different – we will hold ourselves accountable and be accessible to the public, particularly regarding the most vulnerable members of society.”

In his opinion, Maze cited the cabinet’s “systematic and categorical disregard for the rule of law” as grounds for upholding penalties of $756,000 against it for refusing to follow the open records law or previous court orders of the trial judge in the case, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd.

The panel also included Judges Jeff Taylor and Janet Stumbo.
Shepherd had sharply criticized the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services for withholding key records in several high-profile child abuse cases in which it had been involved.

One involved the 2011 death of Amy Dye, 9, who was beaten to death in her adoptive home in Todd County.  The other involved the 2009 death of Wayne County toddler Kayden Branham, who died after drinking drain cleaner from a meth lab in a trailer where the child’s teenage parents were staying.

Shepherd at one point found the cabinet “intentionally adopted a legal strategy designated to delay, obstruct and circumvent the court’s ruling,” a finding cited by Maze in his opinion.

Friday’s Appeals Court ruling comes after a legal battle of nearly six years by the newspapers over access to the cabinet’s records in such cases.

It also comes after a similar ruling in December by the same Appeals Court panel, upholding an award of $16,625 in legal costs to the Todd County Standard in a separate case where that newspaper had sought records related to the Amy Dye death.

In that case, the cabinet first ignored the records request from the weekly newspaper in Western Kentucky, then denied having any such records before eventually producing them at the order of Shepherd, who released them.

In the case decided Friday, The Courier-Journal and Herald-Leader had requested two years worth of records of child-abuse death and injuries, totally about 140 cases.

The cabinet initially refused to release any of the records, citing confidentiality.  After a series of rulings by Shepherd in favor of disclosure, it began releasing some heavily redacted material. It eventually began disclosing nearly all material requested by the newspapers.

While the cabinet’s investigations of child-abuse and neglect cases are confidential, federal and state law make an exception when the abuse or neglect results in a death or life-threatening injury to a child.
The Appeals Court did not rule directly on the issue of the cabinet’s duty to release the records, finding the issue to be moot because the cabinet already has begun providing such records upon request, acting on Shepherd’s orders.

But the cabinet also challenged the newspapers’ legal fees of about $300,000 as well as $765,000 in fines.

Taylor concurred with the overall finding but dissented over whether the cabinet should pay the fines as imposed by Shepherd.

Under open records law, an agency may be fined up to $25 per day for every day it “willfully” withholds a public record.

Shepherd, finding that the cabinet had willfully withheld 140 cases, fined it $10 a day for the 540 days he calculated the cabinet had wrongly withheld records from the newspaper for the total of $765,000.

But Taylor, in his dissent, argued the fines should have been calculated by the number of persons requesting them – in this case, the two newspapers – rather than by all 140 cases, which would have resulted in a much lower fine.

The case now returns to Franklin Circuit Court for Shepherd to rule on the issue of the fines and legal fees.

Super Bowl And Sex Trafficking

.jpg photo of Child Sex Slavery graphic
Children deserve to be safe

The fight to end modern-day slavery must happen every day

By Rep. Ann Wagner, Rep. Renee Ellmers

Kimberly Ritter, an anti-sex trafficking advocate, describes the horror: “They take little girls and walk them from truck to truck, they call them lot lizards.  The pimp needs to keep control of the girls, that pimp can sell her up to 20 times a day, 7 days a week.”  The girls can be 12 and 15 years old; they are our neighbors, nieces, sometimes our daughters or sisters.  Take a moment; picture the pain, the torment, the hopelessness and anguish.  The stories are real. Modern day slavery is happening right here in the United States of America…hiding in plain sight.

Sunday night, Americans across the country will tune into what is arguably the biggest sporting event of the year – the National Football League’s Super Bowl 50.  As Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos fans stream to California for the big game, innocent children and women will be forced into modern-day sexual slavery rings right there in Santa Clara.

According to the McCain Institute, a non-profit organization focused on advancing democracy and human rights, large sporting events in concentrated urban areas become prime locations for traffickers to exploit victims.

While conversations about human trafficking escalate around Super Bowl Sunday, we also know that this heinous practice happens every single day in nearly every city and town across the country.

According to Polaris, a non-profit organization recognized as the global leader in the fight against this modern-day slavery, tens of thousands of women, girls, and boys are trafficked each year in the United States, with millions more falling victim worldwide.

Over the years, we have increasingly seen sex trafficking transactions made through online sites and advertisements.  Now, predators can browse websites and have child prostitutes sent to their hotel rooms or homes as easily as ordering pizza.

As mothers, as sisters, and as lawmakers, it is our duty to raise awareness and work to eradicate this horrific practice that generates billions of dollars for pimps and criminals annually in the United States and beyond.

In May, for the first time in 13 years, Congress passed, and the President signed, legislation to address human trafficking.  An issue that for too long festered in the shadows, this legislation included many individual bills we authored and supported that aim to better identify and protect victims while also cracking down on this cruel exploitation of women, girls, and boys.

The laws we passed will increase penalties for predators and provide resources for law enforcement to better investigate sex crime rings, also allowing them to prosecute those who knowingly profit from online advertisements that exploit the victims of sex trafficking.  It improves law enforcement’s collection of trafficking data, and provides for much-needed training to federal employees and health professionals, all while allocating more resources to survivor shelters.  Most importantly, this new law will increase the identification of victims and provide support for survivors as they heal and rebuild their lives.

As legislators, we believe these new laws are a step in the right direction, however more can and must be done.  Without awareness and education, many of these victims will never be freed and will be forced to endure a life of endless abuse.

We are thankful that so many organizations across the country are willing to speak out and educate others.  Public and private partnerships are crucial to breaking this heinous cycle of exploitation and victimization and we applaud the NFL for their efforts to raise awareness around Super Bowl Sunday.

While our work on this issue has revealed the most depraved and evil segments of our society, it has also shed light on the bravest and most courageous among us.

We draw inspiration from law enforcement professionals who are on the front lines every day protecting our nation’s children from pimps and traffickers.  We are filled with hope by those who work in victims’ services and grateful for their tireless efforts to help survivors recover, heal, and establish new lives following the horrors of sexual enslavement.

Most importantly, we are inspired by survivors themselves whom we have met in our hometowns.  Their courage and strength to speak out, refusing to let their past experiences define them, is nothing short of heroic.  They work each and every day to help educate, raise awareness and speak the truth of this evil underbelly within our society.

We are dedicated to this work, legislatively and beyond, to provide a voice for these victims until human trafficking is eradicated in the United States.  We urge you to contact your members of Congress, state and local officials to learn how you can become more involved in educating your community about the evil of modern-day sex slavery.

Congresswoman Ann Wagner, R-Missouri, has served the Second District of Missouri, just outside of St. Louis, since 2013.  Wagner is a member of the House Financial Services Committee and holds positions on the Elected Leadership Committee and the GOP Whip Team, serving as Senior Deputy Whip.  Prior to her time in Congress, Wagner spent four years as the U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Congresswoman Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., represents the Second District of North Carolina.  She has served on the House Energy and Commerce Committee since 2012, and she currently sits on the Health, Communications & Technology, and Energy & Power subcommittees.  Prior to running for office, Rep. Ellmers served as a registered nurse for over twenty-one years and owned a General Surgery practice with her husband in Dunn, North Carolina.