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]

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