Attorney General: Quarles, KDA Violated Open Records Law

FRANKFORT, Ky. (June 3, 2022) – Kentucky Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron agreed with the Kentucky Democratic Party this week issuing a decision that Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, his General Counsel Joe Bilby and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture clearly and blatantly “violated the (Kentucky Open Records) Act when it failed to respond” to a request for public records related to lawsuits involving the department.

“The Department violated the Act when it failed to respond to the Appellant’s April 20 request for records,” according to a Thursday decision from Attorney General Cameron and Assistant Attorney General James M. Herrick.

The Kentucky Democratic Party requested records related to litigation involving Quarles and the agriculture department. Bilby acknowledged in his only response, before ignoring subsequent emails, “it is possible that KDA is in possession of some documents responsive to your request.” But Bilby and KDA ignored multiple emails entirely, violating the law, and never made any attempt to provide the public records.

“What have Ryan Quarles and Joe Bilby been hiding and deleting for the last four months?” said Kentucky Democratic Party Chair Colmon Elridge. “Ryan Quarles and his chief lawyer are clearly violating the law and clearly hiding something from Kentuckians. Ryan Quarles shouldn’t be governor and Joe Bilby shouldn’t be a judge if they can’t follow Kentucky law. Ryan Quarles and his political allies can’t refuse to follow state open records laws.”

When the KDA did not provide records and failed to respond to an initial request by the Kentucky Democratic Party sent on Feb. 10, Executive Director Sebastian Kitchen followed up on April 20 asking for “all emails and text messages related to any litigation in which the Department of Agriculture is a party that were sent from January 1, 2016 to the present day” between Quarles, Bilby, and Quarles’s brother Clinton who is an attorney in the department.

After receiving no response, the KDP appealed the clear violation of the Kentucky Open Records Act to the office of Attorney General Cameron on May 5. The Attorney General determined in less than a month there was a clear violation.

“The Department did not respond after receiving the Appellant’s April 20 request. Under the Act, a public agency that receives a request to inspect records ‘shall determine within five [business days] whether to comply with the request and shall notify in writing the person making the
request, within the five (5) day period, of its decision.’ KRS 61.880(1),” according to the Thursday decision from the Attorney General’s Office.

“Kentuckians deserve to know that elected leaders are operating in the sunlight and not hiding state business from the people of the commonwealth,” Chair Elridge said.

On Friday, the Kentucky Democratic Party demanded Quarles, Bilby and the KDA immediately respond to the request and turn over records first requested on Feb. 10.

After the KDP filed the appeal, Bilby acknowledged Quarles or the KDA are a party in “at least eight civil lawsuits” in his response to the Attorney General’s Office.

Quarles, Bilby and the KDA have an increasingly common and concerning pattern of violating the Open Records Act.

Just two months ago, the Attorney General held “the Department of Agriculture violated the Open Records Act when it denied portions of a request for records without explanation.” In that case, the KDA “failed to respond at all to the Appellant’s request for e-mails, texts, transcripts, or other documents concerning Delta-8 or Delta-10 THC[.]” As a result, the Attorney General stated: “when a public agency receives a request to inspect records, that agency must decide within five business days ‘whether to comply with the request’ and notify the requester ‘of its decision’” and held KDA violated the act.

“Ryan Quarles and Joe Bilby’s disregard for the law and unresponsiveness clearly indicate why neither are fit to hold public office here in the Commonwealth,” Chair Elridge said.

Bilby continues to take $115,000 a year from taxpayers while running to be a circuit judge in Franklin County and operating a private law firm in Frankfort.