Judge dismisses defamation suit against Kansas City Star

July 11, 2019

On July 2, 2019, a Kansas district judge threw out a defamation suit against The Kansas City Star brought by Kansas Sen. Majority Leader Jim Denning, which The Star had argued violated its First Amendment rights as a publisher.

According to news reports, Denning and his lawyer failed to prove the “actual malice” threshold required for defamation set out by the Supreme Court in its landmark 1960 free speech case New York Times vs. Sullivan. Kansas also has an additional state law that further protects free speech on issues of public concern.

“Denning had not met the requirements of the Kansas Speech Protection Act, which is designed to end meritless lawsuits that target the exercise of free speech,” according to the local NPR news station, KCUR.

“With this decision, the judge affirmed that Sen. Denning’s claim against The Star was entirely without merit, and more importantly, he protected the First Amendment rights of The Star and all journalists,” Colleen McCain Nelson, The Star’s editorial page editor, told KCUR.

The judge also ordered Denning to pay the newspaper’s legal fees, which its lawyer estimated to be around $40,000.

The suit stems from an opinion page article published in January regarding Medicaid expansion in the state. Steve Rose, the article’s author, was a contributing guest columnist and resigned shortly after the suits were filed.

The judge in the case deferred ruling on the defamation suit against Rose as an individual.

— The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

July 30, 2019 Update

The same judge who dismissed Kansas Sen. Jim Denning’s lawsuit against The Kansas City Star in July has now also dismissed a defamation suit against its former contributing columnist, Steve Rose.

The Kansas City Star reported that on July 30, 2019, Johnson County District Court Judge Paul Gurney dismissed the case against Rose, citing lack of evidence of a vendetta.

Eric Weslander, Rose’s attorney, told The Star his client felt vindicated. “This is a huge victory for Steve Rose and for freedom of speech and for freedom of the press in Kansas,” Weslander said.

Denning may be ordered ordered to pay all legal fees, which could total around $90,000, according to KCUR, the local NPR news station.

October 30, 2019 Update

After dismissing defamation suits against The Kansas City Star and a contributing columnist in July, a judge has set the amount of legal fees that the plaintiff, Kansas Senate Republican Leader Jim Denning, must pay.

According to The Star, Denning was ordered to pay nearly $39,000 in legal fees to the newspaper on Oct. 30, 2019. The news outlet also reported that Denning and his lawyers agreed the previous week to pay $24,250 to columnist Steve Rose in legal fees.

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