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Kansas Supreme Court Selected Opinion Summaries
Wichita Eagle v. Secy. Of Corrections, Docket 87,374
July 12, 2002

Summaries and press releases are prepared by Ron Keefover, Office of Judicial Administration, Kansas Judicial Center, 301 West 10th, Topeka, KS 66612-1507 (785-296-2256), e-mail: keefoverr@kscourts.org.

In an in-depth review of the Kansas Open Records Act, the Supreme Court ruled today that the public is entitled to a wide variety of information concerning inmates and parolees who have been charged with subsequent crimes.

The court, in a unanimous decision authored by Justice Bob Abbott, reversed a Shawnee County District Court decision and held in favor of the Wichita Eagle in a lawsuit the newspaper brought to compel the Department of Corrections to provide, among other things, the identity of all inmates, parolees or others supervised by DOC who have been charged with murder or manslaughter during the years 1996 through 1999.

Among other things, the Supreme Court today held that pursuant to the provisions of the Kansas Open Records Act, DOC should disclose:

  • Information concerning pending criminal charges filed against a supervised individual;
  • Any records publicly cited or identified in an open meeting or in an agenda of an open meeting;
  • And, materials prepared as "work product" that were not actually prepared in anticipation of litigation, and for the privilege to apply there must be a "substantial probability that litigation will ensue."

The court also rejected the district court's conclusion that "a strong public policy reason existed" for denying disclosure of the records requested by the Eagle. "The district court reasoned that the disclosure of the information would discourage the Department of Corrections from conducting self-evaluation," Abbott said of the trial court decision.

However, on appeal the newspaper and its reporter, Robert Short, contended that it was in the public's interest to disclose the requested records because the public has "an interest in what the DOC has concluded in terms of its supervision of the murderers while they were on parole and what, if anything, it is doing or has done to guard against similar occurrences in the future."

"We hold that the public policy recognized by the district court favoring self-analysis and improvement by the Department of Corrections is outweighed in this instance by the public policy set forth by the legislature in KORA. The district court erred in holding otherwise," Justice Abbott wrote.

The court also rejected a finding by the district court that the public records were more appropriately available through other sources. The court stated, "We find no other provision or exemption in KORA allowing a public agency to refuse to produce records because such records are available from another or a more ‘appropriate' source. We find, therefore, that the district court erred in concluding that the Secretary of Corrections need not produce the public records requested because they were available through other sources."

Finally, the court rejected the trial court's determination that the Secretary of Corrections need not furnish redacted copies of the requested records. "We find the language of the KORA provision clear and unequivocal. It mandates that a public agency "shall separate or delete such material and make available to the requester that material in the public record which is subject to disclosure pursuant to the act," Justice Abbott concluded.