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Who’s minding the store?
– And other points to ponder

By KAREN KENNEDY

According to a front page article of the Dec. 16 issue of The Courier-Journal, state court officials have made a serious blunder that will without question affect the future prosecution of spouse abusers and other public offenders.

Due to a statewide document retention policy amended last year, all misdemeanor records five years or older are being destroyed. Not only are microfilm and microfiche records being obliterated but the corresponding electronic records are also being deleted from the computer system. Government officials have made these decisions in an effort to free up storage space, thereby saving the taxpayer money on storage costs. Yet their logic appears faulty, and the price we all pay for their decision may be far greater than any tax dollars saved.

Let’s explore just how frightening their cost-cutting measure is and exactly what it means to you and me.

It means an offender’s record will be wiped clean, and prosecutors will be unable to show that an offender has a pattern of misconduct.

It means daycares and nursing homes will no longer be able to check the records of prospective employees for violent misdemeanor convictions over five years old.

It means the law will no longer be able to prevent people from owning or possessing firearms if they have ever had a domestic violence conviction.

It means innocent people will be unable to prove that a charge was dismissed or that they were acquitted.

It means the truth-in-sentencing law will be undercut and jurors won’t know about prior misdemeanor convictions.

It means that a person who could potentially be charged with a felony may not be charged with one because the purging of records has erased his misdemeanors.

Interestingly enough, while other court systems in other states have policies on destroying records, most only set minimum periods the records have to be retained and will allow the individual courts to keep them longer if they so choose. Yet in Kentucky, this record purging policy is mandatory.

This sad tale wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that a supervisor of archives in the Jefferson County clerk’s office wanted to save the records so badly that she literally threw herself across them, earning her the name of “Joan of Archives.”

Of course, “Joan” wasn’t the only one upset. In its article, The Courier-Journal quoted a number of people – an assistant commonwealth attorney, commonwealth attorney, district judges, and the head of the commonwealth attorney’s Domestic Violence Division – who were every bit as appalled as “Joan.”

And you should be, too, because this problem affects you and me right here in our own backyard. Just last week, an event here in Meade County demonstrated just how screwed up this move by the state really is.

On Dec. 19, there was an incident at Flaherty Elementary. After his parental rights were taken away, a Flaherty student’s father threatened Judge Tom Lively and informed him he was going to the school to get his child. Flaherty Elementary was notified of the father’s intent and immediately instituted the appropriate “lockdown” procedures to ensure the safety of both the students and school staff. The man entered the school unable to obtain his child, yet this episode did not end without incident. He has been charged with two counts of terroristic threatening and one count of abuse of a teacher. Both are misdemeanors.

Some digging reveals this is not a one-time incident for this gentleman. In December 2004, he was arrested on charges of assault in the fourth degree/domestic violence. In January 2005, he was charged with disorderly conduct. For these offenses, he was sentenced to 90 days in jail, suspended for two years.

Then, in March 2006, he was charged with cultivation of marijuana under five plants, which is yet another misdemeanor. The case was settled on Dec. 13, 2006, and he received a $148 fine and 365 days in jail with 350 of those days suspended for two years.

Thanks to the cost-cutting measures of our governmental officials, in five years all of the offenses committed by this man will be nothing more than a distant memory. If he decides to once again visit his child’s school five years from now, all of those misdemeanors will have already been wiped clean from his record.

Who’s minding the store?

Got a topic you’d like to see discussed? Contact Karen Kennedy at 422-2155 or send an e-mail to messenger@bbtel.com. The Messenger will consider all topics and select those that best lend themselves to the column’s format. All comments in response to the column should be sent to the Messenger in the form of a Letter to the Editor.



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