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Newspapers to get lawyer fees in child-death review

By Tom O'Neill Louisville Courier-Journal

Kentucky was ordered Tuesday to pay more than $300,000 to two Kentucky newspapers for attorneys fees after they successfully sued for access to records involving children killed while under state supervision.

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd's final ruling rejects a request by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to dismiss his December order requiring the cabinet to pay the plaintiffs' attorneys fees, though that figure was not set until Tuesday.

The court also declined to reconsider a previous order in which the cabinet was fined $756,000 for violating the state's Open Records Act.

Tuesday's ruling culminates a five-year legal battle by the newspapers to make the records public. The case has now cost the cabinet more than $1 million.

The Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader had argued that the cabinet "willfully withheld" records on abuse cases, and then provided copies that were so heavily redacted that they were of little use.

In awarding Courier-Journal attorneys $228,887 and Herald-Leader attorneys $72,897, Judge Shepherd cited four children by name, "and dozens of others," who died while under the cabinet's supervision. He said the court did not consider their deaths "inevitable."

"The record in this case demonstrates that such preventable tragedies will continue to occur," the judge wrote, "as long as the Cabinet's conduct in child-fatality cases remains effectively shielded from public scrutiny."

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