February 21, 1995

In re: Matt Stahl/Mason County Sheriff


This appeal originated in a request to inspect public records submitted by Mr. Matt Stahl, News Editor for The Ledger-Independent, to the Mason County Sheriff. On November 18, 1994, Mr. Stahl requested a copy of a missing persons report filed with the Sheriff in late October, 1994, pertaining to a thirteen year old Maysville resident. We have been apprised of few of the facts surrounding this case, except that it apparently involved a "sensational murder" to which the juvenile was a party.

On November 22, 1994, Mr. John F. Estill, Mason County Attorney, denied Mr. Stahl's request. Relying on KRS 61.878(1)(j), now codified and hereinafter referred to as KRS 61.878(1)(l), and KRS 610.320(3), Mr. Estill construed these provisions to prohibit the release of a report of a missing juvenile.

In his letter of appeal to this office, Mr. Stahl argues that Mr. Estill's reliance on these provisions is misplaced, and that there is no "basis under state law for withholding a document solely because it contains the name of a juvenile." He asks that we determine whether the Mason County Sheriff violated the Open Records Act in denying his request. For the reasons set forth below, we conclude that the Sheriff properly denied Mr. Stahl's request.

KRS 61.878(1)(l) exempts from the mandatory disclosure provisions of the Open Records Law "[p]ublic records or information the disclosure of which is prohibited or restricted or otherwise made confidential by enactment of the General Assembly." This provision works in concert with KRS 610.320(3) to exclude "[a]ll law enforcement records regarding children who have not reached their eighteenth birthday . . . ." KRS 610.320(3) is clear on its face. It operates as an absolute prohibition on the release of law enforcement records of children under the age of eighteen.

In recent months this office has been asked to intercede in a number of disputes relating to the application of this provision. For example, in 93-ORD-42 we were asked to determine if the Kentucky State Police properly withheld law enforcement records regarding adults who are charged with crimes involving children who have not reached their eighteenth birthday. Concluding that the prohibition contained in KRS 610.320(3) does not extend to such records, we observed:

This provision is found in Chapter 610 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes relating to "Procedural Matters" in Juvenile Court. Juvenile court cases include those where a child under eighteen years of age:

1) has committed a public offense other than a traffic violation;

2) has not subjected himself to the reasonable control of his parent or guardian;

3) is a habitual truant;

4) is a habitual runaway;

5) is dependent, neglected, or abused; or

6) is mentally ill.

Chapter 610 does not govern criminal pro- ceedings against adults charged with offenses involving children. As the Kentucky Supreme Court noted in F.T.P. v. Courier-Journal and Louisville Times Co., Ky., 774 S.W.2d 444, 446 (1989):

The purpose of the shroud of secrecy and confidentiality mandated by . . . [these] statutes is to protect the juvenile. It was intended that trials of juveniles not be publicized in the news media, as such publicity would possibly deprive the juvenile of a fair trial and, more importantly, would likely diminish his or her prospect for rehabilitation.

In our view, the "shroud of secrecy" aimed at protecting juveniles cannot logically be extended to protect adults accused of victimizing juveniles.

We believe that the purpose underlying these provisions relative to juvenile court records also underlies KRS 610.320(3) relative to juvenile law enforcement records. KRS 610.320(3) was enacted in response to a legislative concern that juveniles would not receive a fair trial and that their chances for rehabilitation might be diminished as a result of release of law enforcement records relating to them. The legislature did not intend to make confidential law enforcement records regarding adults who are charged with crimes involving children who have not reached their eighteenth birthday. Certainly, the court records of proceedings involving adults accused of such crimes are not made confidential. Lexington Herald Leader v. Tackett, Ky., 601 S.W.2d 905 (1980).

93-ORD-42, pp. 9, 10.

In 94-ORD-7, we were asked to determine if the protection afforded by this provision expired with the death of the juvenile. At page 3 of that decision, we reasoned:

The protection provided by KRS 610.320(3) is not expressly, or by implication, limited to living juveniles. Had the General Assembly intended this provision to be so restricted, it could have written a limitation into the law. In the absence of any such language limiting its application, we are wary of "supply[ing] an omitted provision." Hatchett v. City of Glasgow, Ky., 340 S.W.2d 248, 251 (1961). Simply stated, although the Open Records Act may exhibit a bias in favor of disclosure, the Unified Juvenile Code does not, and it is this law which we are ultimately asked to construe.

We therefore concluded that KRS 610.320(3) continues to operate after the death of a juvenile.

Most recently, we were asked whether the Owensboro Police Department violated the Open Records Act in denying a request for a missing persons report on a juvenile who ran away from a group home and was subsequently killed. Relying on 95-ORD-7, we concluded that the Department properly invoked KRS 610.320(3) in withholding the missing persons report. 95-ORD-21.

The question presented in this appeal is far less difficult to resolve. As noted, the language of KRS 610.320(3) is plain and unambiguous. The statute prohibits disclosure of law enforcement records regarding juveniles, except to identified classes of individuals. Such records are not "opened to scrutiny by the public." We see no reason to treat a missing persons report involving a juvenile as anything other than a law enforcement record exempt under the provisions found at KRS 61.878(1)(l) and KRS 610.320(3). Accordingly, we find that the Mason County Sheriff properly denied Mr. Stahl's request.

Mr. Stahl may challenge this decision by initiating action in the appropriate circuit court. Pursuant to KRS 61.880(3), the Attorney General shall be notified of any action in circuit court, but shall not be named as a party in that action or in any subsequent proceedings.






Distributed to:

Hon. John F. Estill

Mason County Attorney

Courthouse, Sutton & Third Streets

Maysville, KY 41056

Sheriff Tony Wenz

Mson County Courthouse

Sutton & Third Streets

Maysville, KY 41056

Mr. Matt Stahl, News Editor

The Ledger-Independent

P.O. Box 518

Maysville, KY 41056