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MSU Regent chair responds to local TV station's motion asking for $400k in penalty, legal fees

Murray State University

Murray State University’s Board of Regents chair issued a statement late Friday criticizing a local television station for its legal action earlier this week – when it requested over $400,000 from the school for attorney fees and statutory penalties resulting from a case over records requests.

The requested penalties and fees stem from a lawsuit filed by WPSD-TV in 2023, when the news outlet accused Murray State of “willfully defying” the state’s Open Records Act by improperly withholding or redacting some documents the station had requested in a 2022 open records request.

A judge sided with the Paducah-based television station in February, adding that MSU implemented “a near categorical redaction scheme at odds with existing law." After that ruling, WPSD filed a motion asking the court to award the news station over $40,000 in attorney fees and over $370,000 in statutory penalties against the university.

In a press release Friday afternoon following the meeting, board chair Leon Owens said the lawsuit followed “good faith efforts” from Murray State to respond to WPSD’s open records request, which ultimately produced over 1,000 pages of responsive records.

Owens said that, despite the college’s “good faith belief” about the applicability of some Open Records Act exemptions – which he said the University applied to “a very limited number of records” – Murray State provided WPSD with revised records after the court ruled in the station’s favor.

“The University has taken no actions in willful disregard of the law with respect to WPSD’s requests. As such, WPSD is not entitled to fees and penalties under the Act, let alone fees and penalties in the egregious amount sought,” Owens said in a statement from the university.

“The University has fulfilled numerous requests for open records, in accordance with the Act and without dispute on a near-daily basis, and it takes its responsibility in this area very seriously. After months of unnecessary, unjustified, protracted litigation, and hundreds of hours spent producing thousands of pages of records at a tremendous cost to the University, administrators, faculty and staff look forward to returning all of their energy, efforts and resources to their students, and the amazing teaching and learning that occurs at Murray State University.”

During Friday’s meeting, the board met for over an hour in executive session, which is closed to the public, for the “discussions of pending litigation against or on behalf of the public agency.”

Legislative updates

The Board of Regents also addressed legislative measures before the Kentucky General Assembly that could impact the far western Kentucky institution.

Among the top priorities for Murray State this legislative session has been lobbying to allow the university to launch the Commonwealth’s first veterinary school program.

House Bill 400, which amends state statute to allow MSU to establish a vet school, passed the House on Feb. 15, and was heard in the Senate’s Education Committee on Feb. 20. Another measure introduced in the Senate would also support Murray State’s ability to start a veterinary program, and was heard at the same senate committee meeting. Neither bill has received a vote in the Senate.

Another bill Murray State officials have their eyes on is House Bill 319, a bill that would establish the KentuckyCYBER program within the Council on Postsecondary Education. The program would work to grow cooperation among schools and colleges to work toward strengthening the Commonwealth’s cybersecurity workforce.

Jordan Smith, Murray State’s executive director of government and institutional relations, said the bill protects MSU’s Cyber Education and Research Center, and allows the school to take a leadership role in training workers in the cybersecurity field.

In other business:

  • The board was updated on Murray State’s decennial accreditation process from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Accreditation from a nationally recognized agency is required in order to participate in federal student aid programs.
  • Members of the board learned about a new university initiative called MSU Matter, which is aimed at improving student mental health and well-being. 
  • The Board of Regents approved a contract for football head coach Jody Wright, who was hired in January to take over the Racers program. Wright’s contract runs through the end of 2027.
  • MSU Athletic Director Nico Yantko announced that Paducah-based company Swift & Staley donated $1.5 million to the athletic department, which is the largest single gift to the Racers in department history. Owens, the board’s chair, is also the president of Swift & Staley. 

The full meeting can be viewed online.

Murray State University holds the license of WKMS. 

Hannah Saad is the Assistant News Director for WKMS. Originally from Michigan, Hannah earned her bachelor’s degree in news media from The University of Alabama in 2021. Hannah moved to western Kentucky in the summer of 2021 to start the next chapter of her life after graduation. Prior to joining WKMS in March 2023, Hannah was a news reporter at The Paducah Sun. Her goal at WKMS is to share the stories of the region from those who call it home. Outside of work, Hannah enjoys exploring local restaurants, sports photography, painting, and spending time with her fiancé and two dogs.
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