KSU spends $60,000 to defend censorship

KENTUCKY — While the frustration of waiting for a ruling by theU.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in the Kentucky State Universityyearbook and newspaper adviser censorship case continues, lawyers for theschool may be the only ones still smiling.

Documents obtained from the university by the Student Press Law Centerindicate that the university had — as of April 22 — spent more than $60,000to defend against charges that it had illegally confiscated the studentyearbook and transferred the student media adviser to a secretarial positionfor refusing to censor the student newspaper. The SPLC filed a state open-recordsrequest to obtain the information.

The records indicate that the Frankfort law firm of Johnson, Judy, Trueand Guarnieri, LLP, billed KSU between $45 and $125 an hour to representthe university in two cases. The first, Cullen v. Gibson, whichwas brought by the former student media adviser, cost the university $26,000.In that case, Laura Cullen sued Kentucky State for transferring her toa secretarial position after she refused to censor the student newspaper.A district court dismissed her suit in 1996, and the Sixth Circuit upheldthe dismissal in 1997, ruling that the case was moot because Cullen hadvoluntarily resigned from KSU. The case ended in 1998 when the U.S. SupremeCourt refused to hear Cullenís appeal.

The second case, Kincaid v. Gibson, had cost the school $34,000as of April and remains active. In that case, two Kentucky State studentsfiled a lawsuit against the school for confiscating 2,000 copies of the1994 yearbook. School officials said they seized the yearbooks — whichremain locked in a KSU storage room to this day — because they objectedto the color of the cover (purple), its title, “Destinations Unknown,”the inclusion of a current events section and a lack of captions for manyof the photos.

A district court judge, relying on the Supreme Court’s 1988 Hazelwooddecision, dismissed the students’ case in 1997, ruling that the yearbookwas not a public forum. The students appealed to the Sixth Circuit in 1998.A three-judge panel for the Sixth Circuit upheld the district judge’s decisionin 1999, and the students asked the full court to rehear the case. Thecourt agreed and heard oral arguments in the case in May. As the Reportwentto press, a decision in the case had not yet been reached. The $34,000that KSU has spent on the case so far does not include the cost to theuniversity to argue Kincaid v. Gibson to the full panel of the SixthCircuit.

By contrast, the school’s president, George Reid, has said that privategifts to the 2,400-student school totaled less than $100,000 in 1998. Accordingto a May article in the Louisville, Ky.-based Courier-Journal, KSUhas not been able to raise enough money to tap into matching funds thestate set aside for an endowed professorship.

The students’ and adviser’s lawyers, Bruce Orwin and Winter Huff, alsoof Frankfort, have worked on both cases without charge to their clients.

View a timeline of the Kincaid v. Gibsoncourt battle or read past stories from our archives.