AP NEWS

Newspaper calls Kansas Senate leader’s lawsuit ‘meritless’

February 16, 2019
In this photo from Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, Kansas Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, right, R-Overland Park, asks questions during a budget briefing for legislative committees at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Denning has filed a defamation lawsuit against The Kansas City Star, and it is asking a judge to dismiss it. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas City Star asked a Kansas judge Friday to dismiss a defamation lawsuit filed against the newspaper by state Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, calling it a “meritless hand grenade” lobbed for political purposes.

Denning in turn called the allegations made in the newspaper’s filing in Johnson County District Court “absurd.”

Denning’s lawsuit alleges that the newspaper and freelance columnist Steve Rose defamed him by falsely attributing multiple statements to him in a column last month about expansion of the state’s Medicaid health coverage for the needy. The column criticized Denning, an Overland Park Republican, for opposing Medicaid expansion.

In its court filing, The Star said Rose told an editor that Denning made the statements to him last year, but Rose did not disclose the timing of Denning’s comments until after the column was published. Denning said in his lawsuit that he and Rose had not spoken since August 2016.

The filing Friday was The Star’s first legal response. It noted that Denning’s attorney, Michael Kuckelman, is seeking to become the Kansas Republican Party’s next chairman in a vote of GOP activists this weekend. The Star contends that Denning and Kuckelman wanted to “beat the drum of ‘Fake News’” to bolster Kuckelman’s candidacy.

“Sen. Denning and his grandstanding attorney have abused the judicial system for their political goals in filling a lawsuit bereft of any facts,” wrote Bernard Rhodes, The Star’s attorney.

The newspaper asked District Judge Paul Gurney to order Denning and Kuckelman to pay its legal costs.

The Star contends it handled Rose’s column reasonably, requiring him to name the source of the statements, which were unattributed in the draft he initially turned in. After Denning’s office complained and Rose told his editor that Denning’s comments had been made last year, the editor acknowledged in writing to Denning’s office that the column had not met the paper’s standards and the column was removed from the newspaper’s website.

Rose resigned as a columnist but said in response to the lawsuit, “I don’t make things up.”

Kuckelman said The Star is responsible for the material it publishes and “isn’t off the hook” because it has distanced itself from Rose’s column. Denning said the lawsuit isn’t about “some sort of political revenge.”

“It’s about journalistic integrity and telling the truth,” he said in a statement.

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .