Former regent sues student paper at Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln

A former university regent has sued the student newspaper at the Universityof Nebraska-Lincoln for $700,000, claiming that an editorial libeled him andcaused him to lose his bid to rejoin the board in the 2006 election.

The Daily Nebraskan published an editorial titled “Regents must beheld to high standards” in October 2006 that said Robert Prokop had plagiarizedportions of a column he submitted to the newspaper when he was a regent in theearly 1970s. The editorial board later chose not to endorse Prokop for the 2006Board of Regents election, citing concerns over the alleged plagiarism incident.The board oversees the entire University of Nebraska system and its votingmembers are elected by citizens in eight districts across the state.

In his complaint filed with the District Court of Lancaster County on Oct.18, Prokop alleged the editorial contained “false, scandelous [sic], illegal,defamatory, and malicious statements about the plaintiff’s capacity as a publicofficial” and caused him to “not be elected to the Board of Regents.”

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SPLC View: Fortunately, lawsuits brought against student media byschool officials are rare. Successful lawsuits of this ilk are even more rareand this would, at first glance, appear headed toward being one of those.Probably the most important legal question to be decided in this case is whetheror not a former regent at a major public university — who is actively runningfor that position again — is a public figure/official. He certainly should be,but, as we’ve mentioned before, determining the legal status of teachers andother school officials has been notoriously unpredictable and journalists shouldnever base their coverage on a prediction of how a judge will rule on thequestion. In every situation — as we presume occurred at the DailyNebraskan — student news media must only publish what they believe to betrue after careful, thorough reporting.

Case: Prokop v. Daily Nebraskan, Case. No. CI-07-4401 (LancasterCty. Dist. Ct. Oct. 18, 2007)(complaint filed)