The KPA Legal Defense Fund Committee, composed of five KPA Past Presidents and general counsels Jon Fleischaker and Michael Abate, met during the Winter Convention with a record 12 applications for reimbursement. The committee voted to approve 11 applications, denying only a libel suit application.
The biggest single award involved the College Heights Herald ($13,926). That on-going case began when Western Kentucky University sued its student newspaper, the College Heights Herald, to prevent release of records detailing allegations of sexual misconduct by faculty and staff members. The Herald produced nationally award-winning reporting on these issues but has been tied up in court for years defending the Attorney General’s ruling that the records must be disclosed. The situation dates back to November 2016.
Because of the large number of applications, awards were limited to 28 percent of the reimbursement amount requested except for the College Heights Herald case. In that situation, the Legal Defense Fund awarded the reimbursement to the attorneys for the student newspaper, not to the newspaper itself.
The Legal Defense Fund began August 1, 1996, and is funded by advertising space contributions from participating newspapers. For 2019, there are 90 participating newspapers contributing the advertising dollar equivalent of one-half to one full-page of advertising. The funds are solely used to reimburse participating newspapers in legal situations where the outcome would have an effect on all newspapers in the state.
Since its inception, the Legal Defense Fund Committee has honored 114 requests for reimbursement, totaling $805,236.64. That amount includes the reimbursements for 2019.
The Legal Defense Fund was the vision of the late Steve Lowery, a KPA Past President who will be inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame on March 25. The committee is chaired by Tom Caudill with members David Hawpe, David Eldridge, John Nelson and Taylor Hayes.