Kentucky State University agrees to settle yearbook censorship case

Two students who sued Kentucky State University in 1994 over the confiscation of student yearbooks agreed to settle their case against the university Feb. 28 in exchange for $5,000 each and $60,000 in attorney’s fees and costs, as well as the release of the captive yearbooks.

The settlement came almost two months after the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of the student plaintiffs, Charles Kincaid and Capri Coffer in Kincaid v. Gibson, 236 F.3d 342 (6th Cir. Jan. 5, 2001). The appeals court’s decision followed two earlier rulings in favor of the university by a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit and a federal district court.

In addition to the monetary awards and attorney’s fees, the university agreed to distribute the 717 remaining copies of the 1994 Thorobred yearbook — which had been locked in a university storage room since they were confiscated by university officials — to the students who were supposed to receive them in 1994. Kentucky State officials said they will try to send the books to 90 percent of the students eligible to receive them. Any books not distributed will be turned over to Bruce Orwin and Winter Huff, the attorneys who represented the students.

Orwin said he and Huff agreed to discount their fees by 10 percent to reach a settlement with Kentucy State. If the two sides had not agreed to a settlement, the case would have been sent to a district court judge to determine damages and attorney’s fees or Kentucky State could have appealed the Sixth Circuit’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Prior to the January ruling, Kentucky State had spent $43,353.86 in attorney’s fees and costs to defend itself against the students’ charge that university officials illegally confiscated the yearbooks. With the addition of the damages and attorney’s fees agreed to in the settlement, Kentucky State University will have spent more than $100,000 in its attempt to prevent the release of the yearbooks.

SPLC SENSE: With this settlement, it looks like the most serious legal threat to college student media in at least the past decade is finally