WKU’s lawsuit against the Herald hits two-year mark

President Timothy Caboni talks to the College Heights Herald editorial board to  discuss the upcoming year on Friday, Aug. 24. 

Jake Dressman

Feb. 27 marked the two-year anniversary of the university’s lawsuit against the Herald. In that time, the university has spent close to $44,000 in legal fees as of January 2019, an open records request revealed.

WKU sued the Herald in February 2017 in response to an open records request made by former Herald reporter Nicole Ares. The requests were also sent to all other Kentucky public universities.

WKU and Kentucky State University were the only universities that failed to comply with the request.

WKU refused to release the requested records and has maintained the records are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. However, Attorney General Andy Beshear intervened and ordered WKU to release the records.

WKU’s only two options were to release the records or sue the Herald. WKU chose the latter.

A similar case is happening at UK, where its student publication, the Kentucky Kernel, is being sued by UK over an open records request.

The Kernel requested records in 2016 due to the sexual misconduct of an associate professor who had resigned. It then requested records from other Kentucky schools to see how sexual misconduct cases were handled elsewhere, as reported by the Kentucky Kernel.

Although it has not released the records, WKU admitted six of the 20 faculty it investigated had committed sexual misconduct. All six have since resigned. Abate said the Kentucky Supreme Court set a precedent for FERPA in 2001 when it made school documents public but protected student info. He said this is the main evidence WKU is using to argue its case.

The most recent action was in December, as Herald and Kentucky Kernel attorneys requested the court to consider Beshear’s revised open records decision in the Kernel’s case for the Herald lawsuit. During an in-camera review of the requested records over faculty sexual misconduct in the KSU v. Kentucky Kernel lawsuit, Beshear concluded the records must be released because the investigatory report is not an education report, according to a previous Herald article.

Beshear based this decision in the Kernel case on “compelling public interest” which “outweighs any privacy interests of the faculty members involved,” according to the former Herald article.

Herald attorney Mike Abate said the Herald has been billed over $47,700 so far. However, the Herald has received several grants specified for the legal defense. About $7,000 has been donated by Herald and Talisman alumni through the College Heights Herald Fund.
Additionally the Herald has received $24,000 from the Kentucky Press Association Legal Defense Fund over the past two years and a $5,000 grant in 2017 from the Society of Professional Journalists Legal Defense Fund.

News reporter Jake Dressman can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected].