WKU has spent more than $26,000 suing the Herald, previously redacted records reveal

Nicole Ziege

WKU has spent more than $26,000 in legal fees for its ongoing lawsuit against the College Heights Herald, according to an open records request by the Herald.

From the time WKU sued the Herald in February 2017 until March 2, 2018, the total cost of the university’s expenses paid from attorney billing records at the Kerrick Bachert law firm and hours worked by its attorneys was $26,381.38.

The university sued the Herald after denying an open records request by former Herald reporter Nicole Ares in November 2016 for records concerning sexual misconduct allegations against employees at the university. The lawsuit is ongoing.

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear ruled on June 18 that WKU had violated Kentucky’s Open Records Act with over-redacting the financial information regarding the lawsuit. The university stated it “redacted information which discloses substantive information and/or matters protected by the attorney-client privilege,” according to the ruling.

On March 2, former Herald editor-in-chief Andrew Henderson requested “any payments, including amounts and services rendered, paid by WKU to the Kerrick Bachert law firm from Nov. 1, 2016 to [March 2, 2018].”

Henderson appealed the request to the Attorney General’s office on March 29, 2018, after receiving attorney billing records from WKU which he said he believed were over-redacted by the university.

In a letter provided by Deborah Wilkins, WKU General Counsel, in the request from WKU, she said that WKU “possesses insurance coverage which includes coverage for legal expenses incurred defending litigation involving covered claims against the agency.”

Wilkins said in the letter that the invoices Henderson requested included descriptive work that was ‘both substantive and specific, relating to the assessment and defense of the particular claim,’ and she said this was why it had been previously redacted.

“WKU requests as much specificity as possible in order to insure the prudent and responsible expenditure of state funds for legal services generally,” Wilkins said in her letter. “Matters which are not, as yet, ‘in litigation’ – intellectual property, personnel matters, contract negotiations, for example – are invoiced in the same manner as matters in litigation, and as such will include information which is protected by the attorney-client privilege,” Wilkins said in her letter.

Henderson said he was happy that WKU released the information, instead of pursuing further legal action in order to protect the information he had requested. He said he felt it was important for the public to know how much WKU was spending on the lawsuit.

Henderson said it was important to distinguish how the Herald’s case differed from other legal cases for WKU.

“The university decided to pursue legal action against us,” Henderson said. “They themselves can stop at any time.”

The Herald has received grants and donations in order to continue fighting WKU’s lawsuit. They include a $10,000 grant from the Kentucky Press Association Legal Defense Fund, a $5,000 grant from the Society of Professional Journalists Legal Defense Fund and about $7,000 in donations by Herald and Talisman alumni through the College Heights Herald Fund established by the Student Press Law Center.

Nicole Ziege can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected] Follow Nicole Ziege on Twitter at @NicoleZiege.