That’s because axed Kansas City Star columnist Steve Penn‘s defamation lawsuit against the newspaper is set to go to trial on Monday. Penn, you may recall, was fired by the Star in July of 2011 for “using press release material verbatim without attributing the sources.”
One year later Penn file his lawsuit in Jackson County Circuit Court claiming the newspaper “damaged his reputation and future job and business prospects” by announcing his dismissal and suggesting he’d engaged in “professional misconduct.”
Penn’s lawsuit claims the Star was wrong and he had not engaged in professional misconduct because quoting from press releases without attribution was a common practice at the Star.
Well, the you-know-what appears ready to hit the fan.
Take the following email I received from a “Winston Smith” yesterday after several unsuccessful attempts to reach Penn by telephone:
The plagiarism trial begins Monday. The witness list is awesome. Jason Whitlock and Mike Fannin get to slug it out some more. Glen Rice will be on the stand to explain why he still works at The Star after he plagiarized music reviews.
Craig Nienaber will say that he knew nothing about nothing.
The trial comes down to this, will the jury decide Penn was defamed when The Star decided to fire him because he lifted words from press releases. Or will they say using words from a press release is not so bad but what Glen Rice did was really, really bad.
Penn survived a motion by The Star for summary judgement Nov. 4 and now court documents show Star attorneys have submitted what some might call “prior restraint” motions to try to stop witnesses from testifying just about anything regarding the Penn case and about The Star including its public financial reports.
It’s gonna be fun…
At this stage of the game, in lieu of settling the case, a perusal of the legal filings by the Star’s high-powered lawyers at Lathrop & Gage would seem to indicate that big time bucks have already been spent by the newspaper in readying for battle with Penn. And based on my admittedly limited lawsuit experience, I’m going to toss out a guess that in excess of $50,000 has already been spent. I dropped 30 grand 20 years ago sparring with a record store owner and didn’t even get close to going to trial.
And basically, the newspaper has filed pleadings that attempt to deny virtually all of the witnesses Penn has suggested he may call upon. Were the Star to have been granted all its pre trial wishes, Penn would have been forced to walk into battle in the courtroom with little else besides himself and his lawyer for perhaps a 10 minute legal spanking before being sent on his way.
Among the names on Penn’s witness list are, Star editor Mike Fannin, managing editor Steve Shirk, metro desk editor Craig Nienaber, reporter Glenn Rice, angry former Star sports scribe Jason Whitlock, former newsroom editor Anne Spenner, University of Missouri journalism prof emeritus Dan Ranly, former Public Relations Society of America CEO Gerry Corbett, and everybody’s favorite local blogger and former Star editor Jimmy C. Fitzpatrick.
The $64 million question: which of the two combatants might blink before Monday’s trial and agree on an ultra quiet settlement.
While on one hand, the newspaper is doubtless loathe to admit or imply in any way that Penn’s lawsuit has any merit. That said, the last thing it wants to do is parade it’s editors past and present before a jury of Penn’s peers and risk airing its dirty laundry.
So here’s what you can count on – as evidenced by Penn’s current reluctance to return calls ahead of Monday’s trial; whatever the settlement, however much money the newspaper may shell out to put Penn’s lawsuit behind it, count on the fact that it will attempt to seal Penn’s lips for all time. Including whether or not he was paid as much as one penny.
They’re way to haughty at 18th and Grand to want anyone to know they anted up.
Count on this too; no way will Penn go away at this stage of the game without a heaping helping of Star cash for him and his lawyers time and trouble.
The bottom line: Either the newspaper writes Penn a check or there’ll be a whole lotta shaking going on at the Jackson County Courthouse come Monday.