VIRGINIA — James Madison University has dropped the majorityof the charges brought against two school newspaper employees who faceddiscipline after entering a dorm to gather news.
The charges, dropped Thursday, Nov. 5, stemmed from events on Saturday,Oct. 17, when Editor-in-Chief Tim Chapman and reporter Katie Hibson were workingon a story for The Breeze. They were asked to leave the dorms where theywere conducting interviews, and later each was charged with trespassing,disorderly conduct and non-compliance with an official request.
Chapman had all three of his charges dropped. Hibson had two out of thethree charges brought against her dropped.
Hibson’s trespassing charge was upheld, and she received one-yeardisciplinary probation as her penalty. The probation, Chapman said, means if theschool’s Judicial Affairs Office finds Hibson guilty of any charges withinthe next year, it could garner harsher punishment than she would receive if shewere not on probation.
“I’ve got mixed feelings about it,” Chapman said. “I’m happy that the three charges were dropped against me, but Istrongly disagree with [Hibson] being held responsible for trespassingcharges.”
Chapman said there will be no further formal appeals, as Hibson wants toreturn to school work and work at the paper, without the hassle of dealing withthe judicial process.
Grant Penrod, one of the attorneys who assisted the students, said there aresome benefits student media have seen from the case.
“I think we did have a positive ruling out of this at the end,”he said. “The positive ruling is that it’s clear now underuniversity policy that student reporters are allowed in the dorms, so long asthey adhere to the other rules.”
Penrod said even though the resident advisers had been dealing with issuesinvolving peeping toms in the dorms, the reaction to throw reporters out of thedorms was still improper.
“That’s why we have a First Amendment,” Penrod said.”If our gut reaction was to allow freedom of the press and freedom ofspeech, we wouldn’t need it. The problem comes when people’s gutreaction is to stifle those rights. That’s why we have a First Amendment–to protect those things.”
Penrod said he was glad to be a part of the team helping the students,which also included attorneys Alice Lucan and Seth Berlin.
“We were really grateful to the SPLC, to Alice Lucan, the SPJ(Society of Professional Journalists) and the ACLU (American Civil LibertiesUnion),” Chapman said. “It was good that people recognized thesituation and advocated for us.”