Former regent's libel suit against U. of Nebraska-Lincoln newspaper dismissed

NEBRASKA — A judge dismissed a libel suit Wednesday against theUniversity of Nebraska’s student newspaper after the plaintiff, a former Boardof Regents member, failed to satisfy his burden of proof in the four-year-oldlawsuit.

Former Nebraska Regent Robert J. Prokop originally filed thelawsuit in October 2007 alleginga 2006 editorial in the Daily Nebraskannewspaper libeled him. The editorial, titled “Regents must be held to a higherstandard,” accused Prokop of copying passages from a book in a guest column he submittedwhile a regent in the 1970s.

Prokop’s column never ran in the Daily Nebraskan but did in the DouglasCounty Gazette. According to the DailyNebraskan, the paper published an article in 1972 comparing the Douglas County Gazette article to the book “Homosexuality: Disease or Way of Life?” which sparked controversy oncampus. 

More than three decades later, Prokop lost a bid for a seaton the University of Nebraska Board of Regents after the 2006 editorial ran.The lawsuit claimed the newspaper “falsely, maliciously and illegally” printedthe editorial containing “false, scandalous, illegal, defamatory and maliciousstatements.”

Shawn Renner, attorney for the Daily Nebraskan, said Prokop— who represented himself in the trial — failed to meet the legal standard forlibel in Nebraska: that the published information was wrong and the writers haddoubts of the information’s accuracy.

“The judge found insufficient evidence of either falsity oractual malice to submit the case to the jury,” Renner said, “and under Nebraskalaw that means she found that no reasonable juror could have found in favor ofDr. Prokop on the evidence he presented.”

After Prokop rested in the case, Renner moved for a directedverdict, which District Court Judge Jodi L. Nelson granted.

Nelson previously declined to award summary judgment in the newspaper’s favor in September 2010 stating, “the court finds thatgenuine issues of material fact exist regarding the truth or falsity of thestatements made in the article.”

In trial, Renner said Prokop claimed he sent a disclaimer tothe Douglass County Gazette that partof his article copied the book, but the newspaper did not publish it.

Prokop could not be reached for comment.

Dan Shattil, general manager of the Daily Nebraskan, said he never saw any basis for concluding thatthe student editors published the 2006 editorial knowing that Prokop did notplagiarize, which is what Prokop had to show to establish that the piece waspublished with “malice.”

“We’re obviously happy the verdict went our way,” he said,adding he wished Nelson had thrown the case out as frivolous last year at thesummary judgment stage. The judge did summarily dismiss a separate case Prokopfiled against Jim McClurg, who won the regent position.

Shattil said the paper is semi-independent from the school,as it receives some student fees. But the paper was responsible for the $5,000insurance deductible to pay for court fees and will be seeing an increase inpremiums because of the suit.

Prokop has 30 days as of the dismissal to appeal the ruling.