Former regent sues student paper at U. of Nebraska-Lincoln

Paper printed editorial last year claiming Prokop plagiarized column he submitted in the '70s

NEBRASKA -- Former university regent Robert Prokop has sued the student newspaper of the University of Nebraska -- Lincoln for $700,000, claiming that an editorial libeled him and caused him to lose his bid to rejoin the board in the 2006 election.

The Daily Nebraskan published an editorial titled "Regents must be held to high standards" in October 2006 that said Prokop had plagiarized portions of a column he submitted to the newspaper when he was a regent in the early 1970s. The editorial board later chose not to endorse Prokop for the 2006 Board of Regents election, citing concerns over the alleged plagiarism incident. The board oversees the entire University of Nebraska system and its voting members are elected by citizens in eight districts across the state.

In his complaint filed with the District Court of Lancaster County on Oct. 18, Prokop alleged the editorial contained "false, scandelous [sic], illegal, defamatory, and malicious statements about the plaintiff's capacity as a public official" and caused him to "not be elected to the Board of Regents."

Dan Shattil, the newspaper's general manager, said he believes the case will be dismissed.

"I don't think there's much there," he said. "He's going to have a hard time proving the original libel, much less that we ... knew it was false."

Assuming a court agrees that Prokop was a public figure when he claimed he was libeled, he would not only have to show that the statements in question were false, but also that the newspaper knew the statements were false when it chose to print them or acted with reckless disregard for whether the statements were true.

The allegations of plagiarism emanate from a decades-old controversy surrounding the newspaper's refusal to print a column submitted by Prokop in the early 1970s because of concerns about his research. Editors at the time defended their decision by running an article that showed similarities between the column and excerpts from the book "Homosexuality: Disease or Way of Life."

"If can I show the original article showing the line-by-line comparisons of the two, it's going to be hard to refute that," Shattil said.

Jenna Johnson, who was editor in chief when the 2006 editorial was published, said the board chose to publicize the incident because Prokop had not held office since 1983.

"He was running for a public office, a public office that he had held previously," she said, "and anything that had happened in the public office, especially controversies, are important to know, especially since the last time he held this office, a lot of the students that were on the campus weren't born."

When reached by the Student Press Law Center on Thursday, Prokop said he could not comment on the case.

Prokop also has filed suit against regent Jim McClurg, who beat Prokop in 2006 for a spot on the Board of Regents. Prokop alleged that McClurg libeled him in comments he made in an Omaha World-Herald article in October 2006.

news, The Daily Nebraskan, University of Nebraska -Lincoln