Judge Sides With University In Legal Fight With Student Newspaper

Jan 25, 2017
Originally published on January 25, 2017 1:05 pm

The judge presiding over an open records fight between the University of Kentucky and its own student newspaper, The Kentucky Kernel, has sided with the university.

In his Tuesday ruling, Fayette Circuit Court Judge Thomas Clark agreed with the University of Kentucky that there is no way to release investigative documents without compromising the identities of the alleged victims, two graduate students who allege their professor sexually harassed and assaulted them. Clark also ruled that such documents fall under the federal privacy law that protects student records.

The details of the case are complicated and highlight how the confidentiality guaranteed by university-run Title IX investigations can sometimes impede justice.

The Kentucky Kernel had been seeking findings from the investigation. The accused professor left the university before investigators could present their findings.

The school only handed over some of the investigative documents but not all of them, citing student privacy.

In a video statement, University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto said he was grateful for Tuesday's ruling.

"This is going to be helpful because I think it will encourage people to report, give us a greater opportunity through a process that ensures fairness for both the accused and those that are making the allegation that we can adjudicate these cases," he said.

The Kernel's Editor-in-Chief Marjorie Kirk said despite the ruling, she's isn't backing down.

"I'm still proud of the work that my staff did to pursue these stories and to help out with this litigation, and so while I was disappointed that the judge didn't see that, I think the public is definitely in support of this and so I'm still encouraged to pursue the truth and pursue good journalism," she said.

Kirk told NPR that they will appeal the decision.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now an update on an unusual story we aired earlier this month. It's a legal fight between the University of Kentucky and its own student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel. The university had sued the paper to try and block records of a Title IX sexual assault investigation from being made public. Now the judge presiding over the case has handed down a ruling. NPR's Ashley Westerman has more.

ASHLEY WESTERMAN, BYLINE: In his decision Tuesday, the county circuit court judge sided with the university, agreeing that there was no way to release documents in the investigation without revealing the identities of the alleged sexual assault victims. He also ruled that the documents fall under the federal privacy law that protects student records. In a video statement, UK president Eli Capilouto says he's grateful.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

ELI CAPILOUTO: This is going to be helpful because I think it'll encourage people to report, give us a greater opportunity through a process that ensures fairness for both the accused and those that are making the allegation that we can adjudicate these cases.

WESTERMAN: The student paper, the Kentucky Kernel, was seeking findings from the investigation of a former professor accused by two graduate students of sexual harassment and assault. The professor left the university before investigators could present their findings. The paper requested the records, but the school only handed over some of them, citing student privacy. Kernel editor-in-chief Marjorie Kirk says despite the ruling, she isn't backing down.

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF MARJORIE KIRK: I'm still proud of the work that my staff did to pursue these stories and to help out with this litigation. And so while I was disappointed the judge didn't see that, I think the public is definitely in support of this, so I'm still encouraged to pursue the truth and pursue good journalism.

WESTERMAN: Kirk says they will appeal the decision. Ashley Westerman, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEWARE OF SAFETY SONG, "RISE BY SIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.