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Town Council Asks Attorney to Pen ‘Press Release’
June 13, 2007 - Two Knightstown officials are criticizing The Banner over recent news coverage of the newspaper's appeal of a judgment against the town and the town's insurer.
The Banner reported May 23 that it is appealing three rulings by Henry Circuit Court Judge Mary Willis, including one from March 29 where she ordered the town of Knightstown and its insurer to pay $67,612.46 to cover The Banner's attorney fees and court costs from a public access lawsuit the newspaper won in 2006. In its news story, The Banner noted that as of April 26 - four weeks after Willis made her ruling - no amount of the judgment had been paid by either the town or its insurer.
Knightstown Town Council President David Glenn and Clerk-Treasurer Judy Haines have not disputed the accuracy of the information contained in The Banner's May 23 story. A press release the pair jointly issued in late May, however, made clear they were not happy with the story in the May 23 Banner.
"That article either intentionally or unintentionally implied that this appeal resulted from the failure of the town to pay the judgment rendered by Judge Willis," Glenn and Haines said in the press release, which Haines said had been drafted by the town's legal counsel. "Such an implication is false and misleading." According to Glenn and Haines, if The Banner had not filed its appeal, the town and its insurer would have paid the attorney fees and court costs ordered by Willis. They said it would have been up to the town and its insurer, who are both equally responsible for the judgment, to negotiate how much each would pay.
"[A]t no time has the Town ever suggested that it would not comply with an Order of the Henry Circuit Court," wrote Glenn and Haines, "and while it would have preferred the Court award The Banner's attorney less money, to suggest that it would not comply with the Court's Order is simply irresponsible."
While he said he welcomes reader feedback, Eric Cox, The Banner's owner and publisher, dismissed as without merit Glenn's and Haines' claim that the May 23 story was "false and misleading."
"This really appears to be a case of sour grapes for some town officials," said Cox. "There are three references in the article to the fact that as of April 26, four weeks after Willis issued her ruling, the town and its insurer had paid none of the judgment," said Cox. "That's a fact - plain, simple and undisputed - and there's absolutely nothing misleading about it. Moreover, I think it's ironic that the town council would refer to The Banner as irresponsible when they're the ones who pushed this case to its furthest limits - and lost."
Cox said The Banner's appeal is not based on the fact that the town and its insurer still had not paid the attorney fees and court costs four weeks after Willis issued her ruling. Instead, he said the appeal is challenging Willis' decision to award only 36 percent of the attorney fees and court costs requested by the newspaper, as well as her rulings on two other issues.
"I thought I was very clear as to why we were appealing," said Cox. "We believe that Judge Willis' rulings on the attorney fees and a couple of other issues were wrong, and the article in the May 23 Banner includes a quote from me explaining that. If town officials are unhappy about The Banner's appeal, they might consider whether their frustrations and criticisms would be better directed at those who gave them the three years' worth of legal advice that brought them to this point. Is a bruised ego the source of this so-called press release? Or, is it really the sentiment of a concerned town council? I doubt the council knows or cares one way or the other."
The Banner filed its first appeal in this case in 2005 after Willis ruled that the settlement agreement that ended a former Knightstown police dispatcher's civil rights lawsuit against and police department was not a matter of public record. In December of that year, the Indiana Court of Appeals unanimously reversed Willis, ruling that the agreement was a public record, a decision left standing by the Indiana Supreme Court.
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