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Student government attorney demands resignation of SUNY-Brockport editor

February 24, 2011

NEW YORK — An attorney for the State University of New York at Brockport’s student government is demanding the editor of the school’s student-run newspaper retract a Feb. 2 column alleging newspaper theft and resign from his position.

In the column, The Stylus Editor-in-Chief William Matthias targeted BSG Treasurer Kyle Kirchgraber for taking or authorizing the removal of four to five bundles of newspapers left over from the fall semester. Matthias claims Kirchgraber used these leftover newspapers to build a case for additional budget cuts to The Stylus at an appropriations committee meeting.

“Your elected Brockport Student Government officials have committed a crime and are threatening the free press,” Matthias wrote. “This is not a shot at the entire organization, only those responsible.”

A letter from attorney William Smith, Jr., was delivered by BSG President Eric May on Feb. 11, Matthias said. Smith demanded the newly named editor resign, print a retraction and take any other actions to “diminish the harm he has caused.”

Matthias said he will not resign or retract the column.

“Nothing in that letter is disputing my statement regarding Kirchgraber taking the bundles or at least authorizing the removal of those bundles,” Matthias said. “That says something in itself.”

According to The StylusFeb. 16 story on the issue, Smith’s letter defended BSG’s decision to remove the newspapers.

“[A]ny and all assets owned by The Stylus are in fact owned by BSG,” Smith wrote in the letter. “To the extent that an officer of BSG acquires or uses those assets for a purpose that is common to both the organization and BSG, it is simply using its own assets.”

In an e-mail to the Student Press Law Center, May said BSG considers the matter closed.

“It is not for the pleasure of the Executive Officers to ask Mr. Matthias to resign from his position, merely to reinforce the necessary responsibility that with a role such as his,” May wrote in the e-mail. “We are aware that the Stylus Charter states the specific procedure in which the Editor-in-cheif (sic) can be removed, and we trust members of the Stylus to make ethical decisions moving forward.

Before running the column, Matthias said he spoke to the newspaper’s adviser, Marsha Ducey, and to Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center, to understand the legal ramifications of newspaper theft.

“I talked to [Matthias] and I recommended they press charges because that’s theft, but that was their call to make,” Ducey said. “He talked to the editorial board and they decided originally not to do so.”

After hearing rumors about the newspapers’ disappearance, Matthias said he called Kirchgraber, who admitted to taking the newspapers but said they would be returned.

Goldstein said BSG’s defense of Kirchgraber’s conduct surprises him.

“I don’t understand why they’re so upset with the newspaper’s reporting,” Goldstein said. “The nicest thing you could say about the student government moving these papers into another area is that they went out of their way to offend the First Amendment, deprive advertisers of the value of their ad revenue and deprive the student body of the newspaper it paid for.”

According to Goldstein, there are many ways to handle a disagreement with an organization, but taking newspapers isn’t one of them.

“I don’t know why they feel so motivated to defend that. I also don’t think it’s a great defense to say they ultimately gave it back,” Goldstein said. “If I take your car and I give it back when I get caught, I don’t think it’s wrong to say I took it.”

Matthias said BSG intended to use the leftover newspapers to prove a point that The Stylus was wasting money on printing too many copies.

Ducey said there has always been tension between BSG and The Stylus because BSG controls the newspaper’s budget, but the friction grew worse at the end of fall when BSG denied a public records request for the student government’s budget.

SUNY-Brockport spokesman David Mihalyov said the university isn’t backing either side, but is investigating the situation.

“I don’t think we’re backing one side or the other,” Mihalyov said. “Right now there has been a couple of FOIL requests put out there for information that the Brockport Student Government has turned down and we’re looking into whether they have the right to turn that down.”

Matthias said he’s sympathetic to the BSG’s situation, but that the students involved are public officials and should live up to the responsibility associated with the position.

“I do feel for Mr. Kirchgraber,” Matthias said. “It’s not a position that anybody would purposely put themselves in, and it’s not my intention to ruin somebody’s reputation. My intentions are to fulfill my job as editor in chief.”

Matthias said after the papers disappeared he requested a meeting with the president, vice president and treasurer of BSG to discuss some of the recent problems.

“The [Stylus’] students didn’t want to press charges,” Ducey said. “Everything seemed fine, then there was a meeting and they were going to finalize The Stylus’ budget.”

According to Matthias, he was not notified of the appropriations committee meeting or that they would be reviewing The Stylus’ budget. He said the lack of notification forced him to arrive at the meeting unprepared and lacking any budget documentation.

“We got hit with this proposed legislation that would require us to pay $15,000 of our debt by the end of the academic year and come up with $5,000 of that by April 15 or they would review our status as a priority service,” Matthias said.

Matthias said he hasn’t decided whether he’ll file a lawsuit against BSG.

“At this particular time, I’m not really willing to comment on whether or not I’m ready to file a lawsuit or pursue any legal means,” he said. “I will say that if BSG does not acknowledge the fact that they do not own those newspapers and cannot remove them as they wish, then I will continue to pursue this issue in a legal capacity,” Matthias said.

Kirchgraber declined to comment. Smith did not respond despite repeated attempts.

By Nathan Hardin, SPLC staff writer


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© 2011 Student Press Law Center

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