Judge tosses Kansas Senate leader’s lawsuit against paper

July 3, 2019

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A judge threw out a defamation lawsuit filed by Kansas Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning against The Kansas City Star over a column criticizing him for opposing Medicaid expansion.

Johnson County District Judge Paul Gurney ruled Tuesday that Denning, an Overland Park Republican, didn’t show that The Star acted with malice in publishing then-contributing writer Steve Rose’s column in January. The judge ordered Denning to pay the newspaper’s legal fees, which Star attorney Bernard Rhodes estimated at $40,000.

Denning alleged that The Star and Rose defamed him because Rose attributed statements against Medicaid expansion to him that he never made. Rose contends the statements came from a 2018 conversation between them, but he resigned as a contributing columnist after Denning’s staff questioned his work.

Denning and other top Republicans in the GOP-controlled Senate blocked a vote this year on a House-passed Medicaid expansion plan favored by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly but have publicly committed to a debate next year.

Star editorial page editor Colleen McCain Nelson called Denning’s lawsuit “a political ploy” and said the judge’s decision affirmed that it was “entirely without merit.”

“And more importantly, he protected the First Amendment rights of The Star and all journalists,” Nelson said in an email to public radio’s KCUR-FM.

The judge plans to rule later on Denning’s claims against Rose. Mike Kuckelman, the senator’s attorney, said an appeal of the ruling against Denning’s claims is “definitely something that will be considered.” He said Rose’s column was “misleading at best.”

“The Star accepts no legal responsibility whatsoever for what’s printed in that newspaper,” Kuckelman said.

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