Bowling v. Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government was a case before Kentucky Supreme Court in 2005 concerning records request from the police department in an appeal process.
This case established a right to a hearing in cases where an agency denies the existence of records. However, the court determined that an individual must make a clear showing as to the potential of the records existence to prevent undue harassment of state agencies for potential records.
- In 1990, Bowling was convicted of two counts of murder and sentenced to death. Bowling appealed the sentence through all avenues and was rejected on all accounts. In one lst attempt to prove his innocence, just before his execution, he turned to a records request for evidence.
- On October 14, 1999, Bowling submitted an open records request for all files associated with the murder investigation.
- The police department temporarily denied the request 4 days later, on October 19 arguing that Skaggs v. Redford created an exemption for all police records until the criminal had served his sentence.
- On November 3, 1999, the police department changed course and agreed to release the records to Bowling.
- On November 15, 1999, Bowling made a second request for all documents relating to the investigation of other suspects for the murder Bowling was convicted of.
- The police complied, revealing the entire record of the investigation. The police department, however, withheld a number of documents that had been created since the murder concerning these suspects, claiming that they were exempt as a part of an ongoing investigation.
- In June 2000, Bowling submitted an additional request for a narcotics investigation file where other suspects of the murder were being investigated for different crimes.
- After initially denying the request, the Police department later opted to release the majority of the records. On July 28, 2000, Bowling received the records and made an additional request for additional documents and audiotapes recorded during the murder investigation.
- The police department failed to respond to the request for the audio files and Bowling filed suit, attempting to compel the release of the audio tapes and the records withheld as a part of an ongoing investigation. Immediately after filing suit, the police department released all of the audio tapes in their possession to bowling.
- The court delivered an early, preliminary ruling, ordering all files withheld from 1990-1996 for ongoing investigations be released by the department and then established a hearing for conducting an in camera review of the documents post 1996. At the hearing, Bowling attempted to establish that there were remaining documents that the police department had refused to release. The trial court, however, canceled the hearing and merely delivered a ruling on the exempted post 1996 documents, ordering the majority of them released.
- On July 8, 2002, Bowling filed a motion in court, arguing that the police department had violated the Kentucky Open Records Act by withholding records. Bowling had collected affidavits from individuals in the police department and newspaper clippings that highlighted additional documents. However, the trial court dismissed the action, claiming that the police department did not violate the law.
- Bowling appealed the decision.
Ruling of the court
The trial court ruled in favor of the police department, rejecting Bowling motion and determining that the department had adequately met all the records requests.
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the trial court, ruling in favor of the police department.
The Supreme Court first determined that a hearing would not have revealed the tapes as an object that could be released, because the tapes were clearly exempt. The court felt that, in addition, there was no proof that the audio tapes were transferred illegally. Further, the court determined that the police departments request for advice from the Attorney General's office on responding to Bowling's request for the tapes did not constitute a violation of the open records act. However, the court finally determined that citizens had a right to hearings when they are seeking documents that an agency claims do not exist. However, in order to not overly burden the departments, the person seeking the records must make a clear showing that there are concealed documents, before a hearing is scheduled. Despite this right to a hearing, the court determined that Bowling's affidavits and news articles did not constitute enough proof to warrant a hearing. Thus, the court held that the trial court had a right to reject the hearing. Based on these facts, the court determined that the police department did not willfully violate the open records act and that the documents in question were properly exempt.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Ruling of the Court