UK spent $34,000 in suit against Kernel

Lee Mengistu

UK spent $34,003.96 on outside attorney fees in the UK v. Kentucky Kernel Press Inc. case between Aug. 31, 2016 and Jan. 24, 2017.

An open records request revealed that the university spent the money on attorneys and paralegals at Sturgill, Turner, Barker & Moloney, PLLC, a Lexington-based law firm with an annual contractual limit of $1,150,000 with the university.

UK sued the Kernel in order to appeal the state Attorney General’s ruling that UK needed to release documents related to the sexual misconduct investigation of former associate professor James Harwood. A judge ruled in the university’s favor on Jan. 24.

Of the projected budget of $1.15 million, $800,000 comes from the state through “insurance reimbursement after retention is met,” and $350,000 from local and other fees, according to the contract.

Sturgill et. al. work outside of the UK Office of Legal Counsel to represent the university in employment, medical malpractice, athletic legal matters and other matters when “counsel cannot feasibly be provided by in-house personnel due to conflict of interest or workload considerations,” according to the contract.

In comparison, the Office of Legal Counsel, which usually works on internal matters, had a budget of $1,999,6000 in 2014-15 and a proposed budget of $2,096,900 in 2015-16, according to the published Operating and Capital Budget 2015-16.

Sturgill et. al. has been recognized by U.S. News and World Report as a top-tier firm in multiple practice areas, including employment law and representing business organizations.

Although the Office of Legal Counsel cited confidentiality as the reason the university could not reveal outside counsel billing invoices, UK spokesman Jay Blanton said the university generally pays lawyers a flat rate of $125 per hour and paralegals $40 per hour.

“For complex matters, the University may pay more,” Blanton said. “The University can provide information as to how much has been spent on a particular case, but the Attorney-Client Privilege generally covers the specific details.”

The Attorney General has filed two other similar decisions in appeals against Western Kentucky University and Kentucky State University, who have announced that they will challenge the decisions in court as well.