Two of the victims allegedly harassed and assaulted by a University of Kentucky associate professor want to join UK in a court case against the university’s student newspaper over the release of investigative documents regarding the professor.
According to documents filed Monday in Fayette Circuit Court, Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2 think that initial news stories about the case have adequately warned the public about James Harwood, an entomology associate professor accused in the case.
“Although the victims believe that sufficient information should be disclosed to warn about Harwood’s actions (facts that are now publicly known), the victims adamantly oppose the disclosure of additional highly personal records about them that may lead the media or other interested persons to discover their identities,” the brief says. “As the media’s interest in the victims’ story has persisted, the line between the laudable goal of transparency and the blatant invasion of privacy has been crossed.”
Jane Doe 1 and 2 are being represented for free by Daniel A. Cohen, an Atlanta attorney with the Washington-based law firm of Baker Donelson. Cohen’s specialty is assisting universities with Title IX and campus sexual assault investigations.
The Kernel’s lawyer, Tom Miller of Lexington, said he will oppose the motion.
“We’re dealing with a question of law,” Miller said. “It’s not a matter of personal preferences or who’s impacted necessarily; it’s just a question of whether it’s a public record or not. That’s our primary objection.”
Miller said his secondary objection is that UK has had lobbying contracts with Baker Donelson in the past that could pose a potential conflict of interest. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, UK paid Baker Donelson $50,000 in 2015.
More recently, UK has hired the law firm to help in the area of human resources, said UK spokesman Jay Blanton. Reached in Atlanta, Cohen said the victims had reached out to him, but declined to comment further.
Blanton said the university hopes the Kernel will agree with its motion, “which is customary in cases like these, to allow the voices of victim-survivors to be heard in this case. We should all want to hear their stories — directly from them in an unfiltered manner of their choosing.”
The Kentucky Kernel first wrote about the allegations against Harwood in April after obtaining his settlement agreement with the university. UK investigators found enough evidence of harassment and assault to take disciplinary action against Harwood, but he agreed to resign in February without being punished. His salary and benefits were paid through August.
When the newspaper asked for more documents, UK refused. The school also refused to allow Attorney General Andy Beshear’s office to examine the documents after the Kernel appealed UK’s decision to withhold them.
Beshear found UK in violation of the Kentucky Open Records Act and ordered the documents released, but UK then sued the Kernel in Fayette Circuit Court in an attempt to overturn Beshear’s ruling.
Meanwhile, the Kernel obtained many of the investigative documents from a confidential source and published many of the details, including that numerous complainants had accused Harwood of sexual harassment and assault. The Kernel didn’t identify any of the victims, some of whom said they thought the university was protecting Harwood at their expense.
The case has caused national headlines and a furor on UK’s campus, with at least three board trustees saying they oppose the university’s decision to sue the Kernel. Most recently, President Eli Capilouto said the case was causing a drop in sexual assault reporting, although there is no clear correlation.