Kaplan Johnson Abate & Bird
Interior of the Office of Kaplan Johnson Abate & Bird LLP

First Amendment and Media Law

Kaplan Johnson Abate & Bird LLP offers its clients experience and insight in First Amendment and media matters that is unparalleled in this region. We bring decades of hands-on experience representing prominent media clients and individuals on a range of issues, including prepublication story review, litigation concerning defamation claims (libel and slander), access to courts, and access to public records. We also prosecute and defend defamation and other constitutional cases on behalf of individuals and businesses.

Working with the KPA to Protect the First Amendment Rights

The firm’s attorneys pride themselves on working alongside journalists to help them produce — and defend — important and groundbreaking work. We operate a statewide hotline for Kentucky Press Association (KPA) members to obtain legal advice on a wide range of issues arising in modern journalistic practice.

We also serve as counsel to the KPA’s legal defense fund to vigorously represent members who find themselves in litigation. Our attorneys also regularly conduct in-depth reviews for print, broadcast, and multimedia stories for a wide range of clients.

More Than Representation

Our firm attorneys are recognized for their great expertise with First Amendment and media law. They are regularly called upon:

  • To draft and review legislation impacting the press.
  • To testify before legislative committees.
  • To speak at a wide range of events touching upon constitutional and First Amendment principles.

Representative Matters

  • Ramler v. Birkenhauer, 684 S.W.3d 708 (Ky. App. 2024): Won complete reversal of defamation verdict against a former elected official who criticized city leaders for their conduct.
  • Sandmann v. New York Times Co., 78 F.4th 319 (6th Cir. 2023), cert. denied (Mar. 25, 2024): Won affirmance of order dismissing defamation claim against news outlets that covered breaking national news story taking place in Washington, D.C.
  • Kentucky Open Gov’t Coal., Inc. v. Kentucky Dep’t of Fish & Wildlife Res. Comm’n, No. 2022-CA-0170-MR (Ky. App. Oct. 27, 2023): Won ruling declaring that records contained on “personal” devices and email accounts belong to the public under Kentucky’s Open Records Act.
  • Sandmann v. Gannett Co., Inc., 2022 WL 2960763 (E.D. Ky. July 26, 2022): Won summary judgment for Gannett Co. and its newspapers in defamation case seeking over $200 million in damages.
  • Courier Journal v. Shively Police Dept., No. 2021-CA-1120 (Ky. Ct. App. Nov. 10, 2022): Won reversal of opinion upholding Open Records denial, confirming that police departments cannot withhold records solely because they relate to a pending investigation.
  • Courier Journal v. University of Louisville, No. 21-CI-006789 (Jefferson Cir. Ct. Nov. 16, 2022): Won summary judgment and a fee award in case seeking access to University of Louisville records related to ongoing NCAA investigation.
  • Smith v. Gordon, No. 2021-CA-0713 (Ky. Ct. App. Sept. 23, 2022): Won affirmance of order dismissing defamation claim against newspapers and TV stations brought by formerly incarcerated inmate
  • Rupp v. Courier Journal, Inc., 839 F. App’x 1003 (6th Cir. 2021): Obtained dismissal of trademark claims filed against a newspaper by litigious baker.
  • Frymire v. Murray Ledger, 21-CI-00164 (Calloway Cir. Ct. Oct. 15, 2021): Obtained dismissal of defamation claim filed against newspaper concerning coverage of a person arrested during a racial justice protest.
  • Courier Journal v. Kentucky State Police, No. 21-CI-266 (Franklin Cir. Ct. Aug. 31, 2021): Obtained summary judgment for newspaper on claim that state police willfully violated the Open Records Act by withholding all records pertaining to an investigation of LMPD’s shooting of Louisville restaurant owner David McAtee.
  • Evans v. Forman, No. 21-CI-1650 (Jefferson Cir Ct. Aug. 17, 2021): Obtained judgement on the pleadings for attorney sued by police officer in defamation suit seeking damages for allegations made about the officer in a YouTube video.
  • Smith v. Gordon, No. 21-CI-00034 (Garrard Cir. Ct. Apr. 1, 2021): Obtained dismissal of defamation claim filed against newspapers and TV stations.
  • Does 1-10 v. Haaland, 19-CI-001351 (Kenton Cir. Ct. Mar 12, 2021): Obtained dismissal of defamation claim against journalist and prominent academic over posts made on Twitter.
  • Cabinet for Econ. Dev. v. Courier-Journal, Inc., No. 2018-CA-001131-ME (Ky. Ct. App. May 17, 2019), review denied (Aug. 21, 2019): Successfully defended trial court order compelling the disclosure of documents containing the names of the shareholders in Braidy Industries, a company owned in part by the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
  • Louisville/Jefferson Cty. Metro Gov’t v. Courier-Journal, Inc.,Louisville/Jefferson Cty. Metro Gov’t v. Courier-Journal, Inc., 605 S.W.3d 72 (Ky. Ct. App. 2019): Successfully defended landmark trial court ruling compelling the City of Louisville to disclose its bid for the Amazon HQ2 project.
  • Purdue Pharma L.P. v. Bos. Globe Life Scis. Media, LLC, No. 2016-CA-000710-MR (Ky. Ct. App. Dec. 14, 2018), review denied (Aug. 21, 2019): Successfully obtained and defended order requiring opioid litigation records to be unsealed, including an important and rare deposition of a key member of the family that owned Purdue Pharma.
  • “The Pope’s Long Con”: Provided legal review of Peabody award-winning podcast series;
  • WPSD TV et al v. Jameson, Nos. 18-CA-277 & 18-CA-279 (Mar. 1. 2018): Successfully obtained emergency appellate relief ordering court to unseal proceedings of juvenile defendant indicted as an adult in connection with school shooting in Marshall County, KY;
  • Cabinet for Economic Development v. Courier Journal, No. 17-CI-1137 (Franklin Cir. Ct. Mar. 29, 2018): Successfully defeated challenge to Attorney General opinion requiring Cabinet to disclose the names of shareholders in company owned in significant part by the Commonwealth of Kentucky;
  • WKU v. College Heights Herald: Represented college newspaper against its own administration in litigation concerning the public’s right to access Title IX investigative records concerning faculty members accused of sexual misconduct on college campuses (pending);
  • In Re: Grand Jury Subpoena (WDRB-41): Successfully moved to quash a search warrant, and then a grand jury subpoena, seeking unbroadcast news footage;
  • Utility Management Group v. Pike County Fiscal Court, 531 S.W.3d 3 (Ky. 2017): Successfully argued against retroactive application of amendment to Open Records Law;
  • Of Commissioners of City of Danville v. Advocate Commc’ns, Inc., 527 S.W.3d 803 (Ky. 2017): Successfully argued that public agency violated Open Meetings Act by conducting business in closed session;
  • Cabinet for Health & Family Servs. v. Courier-Journal, Inc., 493 S.W.3d 375 (Ky. Ct. App. 2016): Obtained and defended unprecedented judgment awarding client over $1 million in fees and penalties under Kentucky Open Records Act.
  • Cape Publications, Inc. v. Univ. of Louisville Found., Inc., 260 S.W.3d 818, 820 (Ky. 2008): Successfully arguing that the University of Louisville Foundation is a public agency and the names of its donors must be disclosed.

Contact Us

We counsel and represent clients in Metro Louisville and throughout the nation. To speak with one of our lawyers, call our office at 502-416-1630.