Member Login

Premium Content

Kenton Court Hears Arguments in Cov Cath Students' Suits

Court cases continue from last year's encounter between students from Covington Catholic High School, Black Hebrew Israelites, and Native American activists in Washington, D.C.

Though the case of student Nicholas Sandmann, who is suing for defamation multiple media companies and has already settled with CNN, has garnered the most attention, another legal battle arrived in Kenton Circuit Court on Thursday.

Legal teams representing comedian Kathy Griffin, former Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen, and others asked the court to dismiss the lawsuits against them.

Attorney Robert Barnes is representing the plaintiffs, ten unnamed students from Cov Cath.

The defendants moved to dismiss the case based on four criteria: jurisdiction, the anonymity of the plaintiffs, the referenced statements didn't individually target or specify any of the students, and the statements were opinions covered by the first amendment. 

"Yesterday, Barnes Tweeted that the defense in his case is seeking to dismiss and that he is seeking justice," one of the defendants' lawyers said. "Make no mistake, we are seeking dismissal and justice."

The defense argued that because their clients, besides Edelen, didn't live in Kentucky and were commenting on an event that took place in Washington D.C. on a platform that is published worldwide, Kenton County's Circuit Court was not the correct venue to hear the case. 

Barnes argued that the Commonwealth's long-arm statute made this point moot. 

Secondly, the defense claimed that the anonymity of the plaintiffs in the case was not only unwarranted, but also created difficulty when trying to defend their clients - citing that there cannot be secret trials taking place in the commonwealth. 

Barnes argued that the anonymity of his clients was important because the case was high-profile, and is meant to deter internet doxxing - where internet mobs release private information about victims - and revealing his clients' identities would be counterproductive. 

Thirdly, the defense said that the statements made by their clients did not incite violence against, nor identify and individual Covington Catholic student and could therefore not be considered libel or defamation.

Barnes argued that the group of students in question was small enough to meet legal precedent for both. 

Lastly, the team of defense lawyers said that their clients' statements were opinions protected by the first amendment because they were made with information available to them at the time of posting.

Barnes argued that the defendants knew the statements were untruthful and therefore constituted defamation and libel. 

Throughout his statements to the court, Barnes said that the arguments posed by the defense shouldn't be decided during this early preliminary stage of the case and said that the case should proceed to see if the plaintiff can prove its claims. 

Barnes said that he thinks this case is important because it is the first major case dealing with the changing public square that he feels is moving more towards a virtual venue. 

"I'm not here for fame or money," Barnes said. "I'm simply doing this for the families and to ensure something like this never happens again." 

Judge Kathleen Lape said that she would likely not have a decision soon because of the amount of documents she will review.

The lawsuits arose from the January 2019 March for Life in Washington, D.C., attended by students from Cov Cath. A short video clip of Cov Cath students cheering in a circle around a Native American activist went widely viral when it appeared to portray them as badgering the man, Nathan Phillips. The clip garnered significant commentary, mostly aimed negatively at the students' perceived behavior.

Later, longer videos emerged showing that the students had been performing their school spirit chants in response to harassment from Black Hebrew Israelites who had also been on the National Mall that day. Phillips is seen approaching the students, dispelling the original story that he had been surrounded by them.

Written by Connor Wall and Michael Monks