Photographer: 'I'm on my own'
Published: Monday, May 3, 2010
Updated: Saturday, June 16, 2012 01:06
A Lantern photographer who shot photographs of cows that escaped on campus two weeks ago now faces possible charges of criminal trespassing and, despite his requests, will likely not receive legal assistance from Ohio State or The Lantern.
OSU Police sent an e-mail to photographer Alex Kotran on Saturday asking him to schedule a time today or Wednesday when he can be questioned.
Kotran asked if either the university or The Lantern would provide him with an attorney and has yet to hire one himself. He is still not sure whether he will receive assistance from the university.
"I haven't been given a clear answer," Kotran said Monday. "I'm assuming that I'm on my own right now."
In an e-mail to Officer William Linton on Monday, Kotran said "I am currently in the process of obtaining a criminal defense attorney, and will instruct him to contact you once I do."
Linton is the officer who detained and handcuffed Kotran on April 21.
Lantern General Manager John Milliken said representatives of OSU Legal Affairs told him the university cannot provide Kotran with an attorney or the money for an attorney because it is a conflict of interest.
"We have had conversations related to the entire issue. It is fairly filled with conflicts and little nuances that make it very unique," Milliken said. He said what makes this issue unique is that all parties involved are affiliated with the university.
OSU's Legal Affairs Office generally does not respond to calls from Lantern reporters and refers all questions about its operations to Jim Lynch, director of Media Relations.
"The university generally cannot provide legal representation in criminal matters, even to employees," Lynch said Monday.
Tom O'Hara, The Lantern's adviser, sees things a different way.
"I find it odd that the university has the resources to pursue prosecution of a student who hasn't done anything wrong, but it doesn't have the resources to help defend a student who hasn't done anything wrong," O'Hara said.
Milliken said the case would be different if the issue involved a student facing criminal charges or being threatened with suit by a party outside the university. Still, The Lantern has no money budgeted for legal services for student staff members.
Some student media organizations do provide students with legal counsel when needed. For example, Louisiana State University has money in its budget for such cases, said Jim Shelledy, director of Student Media at LSU.
"We set aside $10,000 every year for legal contingencies that would be a little out of the ordinary," Shelledy said. "The university covers us for libel cases." He said that money comes from ad revenue and student fees.
Shelledy said the money could be used to hire an attorney to defend a student against criminal charges, but usually it does not reach the point where an attorney is needed.
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said cases in which university police press charges against student journalists are rare. He said it happens "maybe once a year."
He also said it is fairly uncommon for a university to provide a student journalist with criminal defense counsel.
"My strong prediction would be that someone higher up in the university will recognize that this was a terrible mistake by the police and work to make it right," LoMonte said.
Len Downie, former editor for The Washington Post, said he finds the actions of the various university employees involved in Kotran's detainment and the university's unwillingness to provide Kotran with legal representation outrageous.
"It is deeply disturbing to me as an alumnus of the School of Journalism," said Downie, who served as The Lantern's managing editor in the early 1960s.
The Lantern's Publications Committee rejected a proposed resolution Thursday to have the School of Communication provide legal representation to student staff members when needed. But the committee agreed to seek information from the university on its policy of legal representation for Lantern staff.
Downie, who now serves as the Weil Family Professor of Journalism at Arizona State University, said this is unacceptable.
"I can understand the budget issues involved. But budget issues aside, in every other way, the school should be fully supportive of the student journalist," Downie said.
Felecia Ross, chair of the committee, said the committee rejected the motion because of the way it was phrased, not because they did not support Kotran.
"We just did not want to make a decision before we have all the information," Ross said.
Kotran and his family are in the process of finding an attorney.
Kotran's father, Nick Kotran, called the incident "a shame" and said he believes "it should never have happened." But he was reluctant to say whether his family or the university should be responsible for hiring an attorney for Alex.
"I am not worried about who is going to pay for it," Nick Kotran said.
"I am going to do whatever it takes to get this settled. We are
working to get this dropped and then we'll worry about money."