Status conference requested in Herald lawsuit

Monica Kast

Lawyers representing the College Heights Herald have requested a status conference in the lawsuit brought against the publication by WKU. Additionally, the Society of Professional Journalists has given the publication a grant to fund the expenses incurred in the lawsuit.

WKU sued the Herald in February after Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear ruled that WKU had violated Kentucky’s Open Records Act by denying to give records related to faculty and staff members of the university who have violated the sexual misconduct policy.

Beshear also ruled that WKU had violated the Open Records Act by refusing to allow his office to review the records. WKU submitted the sexual misconduct documents to the Warren Circuit Court in August for in camera review by the court.

Mike Abate, the attorney representing the Herald, said a hearing was supposed to have been scheduled within 30 days of the submission of the documents. Abate said they requested a status conference to “keep the case moving.”

“The documents were turned over in … August, and we just kind of wanted to get together with all the parties and the judge, either in person or on the phone and kind of figure out what’s going to come next in the litigation,” Abate said.

According to US Legal, a status conference is a “pre-trial meeting of attorneys with a judge.” The purpose of a status conference “is to lay out the progress of the case and set a timeline for discovery matters and a trial,” according to US Legal.

Abate said the motion for a status conference was filed Monday, but “we don’t know yet what that next step will be, that’s why we want to have the conference.”

Abate said as a result of the status conference, he hopes “we would get a quick briefing schedule,” as well as access to an index that was prepared for the court, detailing each redaction from the sexual misconduct documents.

“We certainly think we want to have as quick of a briefing schedule as we can get, and we think we have a right to get that index, so we can see what they’re claiming is confidential and why, and why we can’t receive redacted copies,” Abate said.

Additionally, the Herald has received a $5,000 grant from the Society of Professional Journalists, or SPJ, Legal Defense Fund “in support of the College Heights Herald’s efforts to obtain public records relating to campus sexual misconduct by faculty and staff,” according to an email from Mark Bailen, counsel for SPJ.

Chuck Clark, director of WKU student publications, said $5,000 is the maximum amount SPJ typically distributes through the Legal Defense Fund.

“That the SPJ Legal Defense Fund chose to award a grant to the College Heights Herald signifies that they see this as an important case,” Clark said.

SPJ is a journalism organization “dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior,” according to their website. The Legal Defense Fund provides “journalists with legal or direct financial assistance,” according to the Legal Defense Fund web page.

The Legal Defense Fund also helps cover court fees, through a partnershipwith the National Freedom of Information Coalition, according to their website.

On Monday, Beshear said Warren Circuit Court Judge Steve Wilson is currently reviewing documents submitted by WKU and might be providing guidance to Beshear.

“In the end, I think this is all about accountability,” Beshear said. “You have to have some transparency to enforce accountability.”

Beshear said in the case of sexual misconduct documents, “we deserve to know, as citizens, as parents, how safe a campus is and how they handle these horrific situations when they occur.”

News editor Monica Kast can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @monica_kast.