KSU spends $60,000 to defend censorship

Records reveal high price of confiscating yearbooks

KENTUCKY -- While the frustration of waiting for a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in the Kentucky State University yearbook and newspaper adviser censorship case continues, lawyers for the school may be the only ones still smiling.

Documents obtained from the university by the Student Press Law Center indicate that the university had -- as of April 22 -- spent more than $60,000 to defend against charges that it had illegally confiscated the student yearbook and transferred the student media adviser to a secretarial position for refusing to censor the student newspaper. The SPLC filed a state open-records request to obtain the information.

The records indicate that the Frankfort law firm of Johnson, Judy, True and Guarnieri, LLP, billed KSU between $45 and $125 an hour to represent the university in two cases. The first, Cullen v. Gibson, which was brought by the former student media adviser, cost the university $26,000. In that case, Laura Cullen sued Kentucky State for transferring her to a secretarial position after she refused to censor the student newspaper. A district court dismissed her suit in 1996, and the Sixth Circuit upheld the dismissal in 1997, ruling that the case was moot because Cullen had voluntarily resigned from KSU. The case ended in 1998 when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear CullenĂ­s appeal.

The second case, Kincaid v. Gibson, had cost the school $34,000 as of April and remains active. In that case, two Kentucky State students filed a lawsuit against the school for confiscating 2,000 copies of the 1994 yearbook. School officials said they seized the yearbooks -- which remain locked in a KSU storage room to this day -- because they objected to the color of the cover (purple), its title, "Destinations Unknown," the inclusion of a current events section and a lack of captions for many of the photos.

A district court judge, relying on the Supreme Court's 1988 Hazelwood decision, dismissed the students' case in 1997, ruling that the yearbook was not a public forum. The students appealed to the Sixth Circuit in 1998. A three-judge panel for the Sixth Circuit upheld the district judge's decision in 1999, and the students asked the full court to rehear the case. The court agreed and heard oral arguments in the case in May. As the Report went to press, a decision in the case had not yet been reached. The $34,000 that KSU has spent on the case so far does not include the cost to the university to argue Kincaid v. Gibson to the full panel of the Sixth Circuit.

By contrast, the school's president, George Reid, has said that private gifts to the 2,400-student school totaled less than $100,000 in 1998. According to a May article in the Louisville, Ky.-based Courier-Journal, KSU has not been able to raise enough money to tap into matching funds the state set aside for an endowed professorship.

The students' and adviser's lawyers, Bruce Orwin and Winter Huff, also of Frankfort, have worked on both cases without charge to their clients.

View a timeline of the Kincaid v. Gibson court battle or read past stories from our archives.

reports, Winter 2000-01