Overland Park Sen. Jim Denning files defamation lawsuit against KC Star, Steve Rose for attribution of comments in column

Jay Senter - January 28, 2019 4:40 pm
Jim Denning (left) at a candidate forum during the 2016 election cycle.

Overland Park Sen. Jim Denning has filed a lawsuit in Johnson County District Court against Kansas City Star columnist and former Johnson County Sun publisher Steve Rose.

In the suit, which names The Star as a defendant as well, Denning alleges that Rose attributed multiple comments to him in a column published by the newspaper on Saturday that he did not make.

“Steve Rose did not interview me for the article,” Denning wrote in a statement regarding the suit. “Faced with a deadline and a Kansas City Star editor demanding a name for the attack piece, Rose falsely attributed his conjured-up comments to me.”

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Contacted via email for comment on the suit Monday afternoon, Rose responded that “I have been writing columns for almost 50 years, and I don’t make things up.”

The column in question is titled “Why hasn’t Kansas expanded Medicaid? This GOP leader has a long list of excuses.” In the opening paragraph, Rose writes that “One powerful conservative Republican leader in the Kansas Senate…finally confessed to me his reasons for rejecting it.” Rose criticizes Denning, currently the Senate Majority Leader, for failing to bring Medicaid expansion up for a vote. The column attributes a number of statements to Denning, including, “He said it is widely known by physicians that Medicaid patients often do not show up for their appointments, thus robbing other patients of those hard-to-get time slots,” and “The senator said he resents able-bodied Kansans, regardless of their income, who abuse the system by accepting free medical care when they refuse to work.”

According to Denning, though, he has not spoken to Rose since 2016.

“It’s inconceivable to me how The Star could pass this column off as anything but a lie. It’s shocking. It’s disappointing. And it’s damaging,” Denning wrote.

Attorney Michael Kuckelman, who is representing Denning in the matter, said that Rose’s alleged conduct amounted to defamation.

“[Media] has wide berth in what the media writes about elected officials such as Senator Denning,” Kuckelman said. “However, the Court made clear that media cannot publish articles with the knowledge that the statements within are false or with reckless disregard to the truthfulness.”

The petition seeks judgement against the Star and Rose “for an amount exceeding $75,000” in addition to legal fees.

An exhibit accompanying the lawsuit appears to show an email exchange involving Rose, Denning and a third party in which Rose offers to “resign my column in The Star, effective today” if Denning would “let it drop.” In an email, the third party had raised questions about statements Rose made in the piece and their attribution to Denning.

We’ve contacted the Star seeking comment on the suit as well. We’ll update the story if and when we hear back from them.

The full court document is embedded below:

Download (PDF, 640KB)

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