Court hears oral arguments in Kansas State adviser case

Decision in case not expected for months, lawyer says

COLORADO -- The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments Nov. 13 in its review of a lower court’s ruling that upheld the 2004 dismissal of a Kansas State University student newspaper adviser.

The lower court dismissed the case, stating that the university’s removal of Ron Johnson, former adviser for Kansas State University’s student newspaper, The Collegian, did not violate the First Amendment rights of student editors.

Johnson was reassigned from his position as adviser in 2004 after the university conducted a content analysis of The Collegian and found the “overall quality” of the newspaper to be lacking.

Former Collegian editors Sarah Rice and Katie Lane filed a lawsuit claiming that the university’s actions violated their First Amendment rights.

Rice and Johnson, who both attended the hearing, said they were impressed with the amount of knowledge the judges had about the case. Johnson called the hour-long session “intense” and said the judges asked both lawyers “tough” but balanced questions. The judges also questioned the plaintiffs’ legal standing to pursue the case as former editors of the newspaper, he said. Both Rice and Lane have graduated from Kansas State.

Johnson also said the judges focused on the university’s emphasis on the “content analysis” argument and how the university circumvented the student publications board in its decision to remove Johnson.

At the end of the hearing, Rice said presiding Judge Carlos Lucero made a comment about the broad implications of the case and how its effects might go beyond student newspapers to publications such as law reviews. Rice said hearing Lucero’s statement made her feel “more confident” about the outcome of the case.

“I’m more at ease that we were heard and that the facts and implications of the case are understood by the people who are deciding it,” Rice said.

Johnson also said he was pleased that the judge brought up the larger consequences of the case.

“We’re far from hearing a decision,” Johnson said. “But we had our day in court and I thought it was a good day.”

The Student Press Law Center and nine other media and First Amendment organizations filed a brief in support of the students in the case.

Pat Doran, the attorney representing Lane and Rice, said a decision is not expected for another five to six months.

“I think both Sarah Rice and Katie Lane are heroes for sticking to this, long after they left The Collegian, trying to restore freedoms in the newsroom,” Johnson said.

Colorado, Kansas, Kansas State University, news, The Collegian