Media organizations offer funding for Kotran attorney
Published: Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Updated: Saturday, June 16, 2012 00:06
Alex Kotran, The Lantern photographer who was detained and handcuffed by Ohio State police while photographing two escaped cows, said he will still retain a lawyer even after an OSU official announced that he will not be charged, and that he has a number of options available to him.
Kotran has been scrambling to find legal counsel and a number of organizations have offered help. Even after finding out that he will not be charged, Kotran will still retain a lawyer to deal with a review of his actions by the Office of Student Life's Judiciary Committee. OSU police still plan to meet with him.
Kotran met with two attorneys yesterday at a time when many students were meeting with professors to discuss midterm exams.
Because the charges that until late yesterday were pending against Kotran were for a criminal offense, Lantern adviser Tom O'Hara was adamant that he needed a criminal attorney to advise him. He also said there are "very important First Amendment and journalistic issues at stake here."
"I would imagine that part of his defense would be that he was doing journalism," O'Hara said Tuesday morning. "He was out there as a Lantern photographer recording a very significant news event. That's his obligation to do that."
One of the lawyers Kotran met with is a local criminal defense attorney recommended by a law professor in the Moritz College of Law. The other specializes in First Amendment and media rights cases.
The First Amendment lawyer will work pro bono, Kotran said Monday, but "it looks like I'm going to have to end up paying out of my own pocket for the criminal attorney."
However, news of Kotran's legal woes with the university published Tuesday on an influential website run by Jim Romenesko have solicited calls of support and donations from professional journalists.
John Sullivan, an investigative reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, said he found out about the case on the website and e-mailed Lantern Editor-in-Chief Collin Binkley to offer support.
"I think anybody who's a journalist who reads this has concerns," Sullivan said.
He also said the editor of the Inquirer, Bill Marimow, a two-time Pulitzer Prize Winner, "is supportive of the student photographer's right to take newsworthy photos and he is happy to make a contribution to his defense."
Kotran said he hasn't even had a chance to talk prices with lawyers and said he doesn't know if that is necessary yet.
The Society of Professional Journalists, a national journalism trade organization, operates a fund to provide legal assistance to journalists.
Clint Brewer, chair of the Legal Defense Fund committee, said he had spoken with Kotran about the case.
"We're gathering information," he said, "but based on the information we do have, we encouraged him to apply."
Six members of the committee will vote on whether to approve the request after the organization's legal team has processed it.
Brewer said he believes Kotran is in the process of completing the formal request, and that it usually takes a couple days.
The fund has been used for public records lawsuits and to challenge subpoenas as well as to pay for criminal defenses. And Brewer said requests for criminal defense are "unfortunately not as rare" as they once were.
Still, Kotran said he is not counting on the legal defense fund "too much."
"You know, I haven't had much luck with committees it seems like," he said.
On Thursday The Lantern Publications Committee rejected a proposal to have the School of Communication pay Kotran's legal fees. In addition, a Lantern article Tuesday reported that Jim Lynch, director of Media Relations, said that the university could not generally provide legal help for criminal cases.
The SPJ Legal Defense Fund "seems like … one of the few (options) I have left," unless a criminal defense attorney will agree to take his case for free, Kotran said.
The media lawyer was recommended by Lucy Dalglish, the executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
O'Hara said he reached out to Dalglish when it became apparent that neither The Lantern nor the university would offer legal support.
The Reporters Committee on Freedom of the Press is a nonprofit organization that provides legal assistance to journalists.
Dalglish said her organization has a "stable of First Amendment lawyers" that can go to work at a moment's notice.
But finding an experienced criminal defense attorney to work pro bono could take weeks, she said.
Dalglish also said the First Amendment issues remain unclear.
The police "can treat journalists no better and certainly no worse than other people," she said. If Kotran can prove the authorities "targeted him because he was a reporter, then that's a problem," she said.
In addition to national media organizations, Kotran said he is also relying on family support.
"My parents are definitely going to be paying for anything that I need right now," he said. But he said he is "disappointed" that the Publications Committee "didn't actually come through in supporting" him.
Meanwhile, Kotran said he still wants to work on the newspaper and is still taking photo assignments; but he had to reschedule one because he was meeting with his attorneys yesterday.
"My qualm really isn't with the newspaper so much as with the administrative people … the higher-ups," he said. "They seem to be the people that are giving me trouble. Because Tom (O'Hara) and the rest of The Lantern staff have really been supportive."