CoJMC & College of Law host panel for 40th anniversary of landmark NPA v. Stuart decision

CoJMC & College of Law host panel for 40th anniversary of landmark NPA v. Stuart decision

Thursday, March 3, 2016 - 6:00pm
NPA vs Stuart
NPA vs Stuart

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications and the University of Nebraska College of Law are hosting a panel discussion at the College of Law on April 14 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart landmark decision.

The June 30, 1974 Supreme Court decision held that prior restraint against the press in the Nebraska case violated the First Amendment of the Constitution. Students, media, attorneys, faculty and the general public are invited to the College of Law Hamann Auditorium on Thursday, April 14 from 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m.

“Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart is taught in journalism colleges throughout the country and is likely the most significant of all First Amendment cases,” said Maria Marron, dean of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications. “We are proud and delighted to celebrate this landmark decision and the people who made it possible and to continue the discussion about the importance of freedom of the press. When we hear daily assaults on the media and political manifestos to undermine the First Amendment, it is critical that we educate the public about the importance of press freedoms.”

The idea of a 40th anniversary event began when Jim Seacrest mentioned the idea to Dean Marron.

“When I met Jim Seacrest about a year ago, he talked about the significance of Nebraska Press v. Stuart and noted that the 40th anniversary was coming up,” Marron said.

After graduating from the University of Nebraska in 1963, Seacrest entered the family business, which owned and published newspapers in Lincoln, Scottsbluff and North Platte. He served as president and chairman of the board of Western Publishing Company in North Platte from 1968 until 2000, and played a significant role in covering the events that led to the case and in bringing it to the Supreme Court.

In April 2003, Jim and Rhonda Seacrest sponsored the installation of a display based on newspaper coverage of the case. The display, designed by Nebraska journalists Bill Eddy and Gil Savery, as well as Steve Ryan and Brent Carmack of the Museum of Nebraska History, is housed in the lobby of Andersen Hall, the home of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

The Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart case stemmed from the murders of six members of the Kellie family in Sutherland, Nebraska, on Oct. 18, 1975. After the suspect was detained by law enforcement, there was a high level of media coverage about the proceedings. The attorneys on the case asked the court to restrict reporting to maintain neutral jury selection.

Ultimately, in an opinion issued on June 30, 1976, the United States Supreme Court ruled that “prior restraints on speech and publication are the most serious and least tolerable infringement on First Amendment Rights,” except when “clear and present danger” that would impede the process of a fair trial.

“We’re excited to host a panel of experts to discuss the continued impact of Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart,” said Richard Moberly, interim dean of the College of Law. “Today, our society still grapples with the question of how the government, and specifically courts, should balance necessary secrecy with the need for judicial transparency. This panel of lawyers and media professionals will provide important perspectives on that issue.”

The panel includes:

  • John Bender, Ph.D., CoJMC Professor of Journalism and Mass Media Law
    Bender has taught at the collegiate level for more than 30 years, at Nebraska since 1990. He’s currently working on a book about the Supreme Court’s major decisions on media access to criminal proceedings. He also serves as president of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Faculty Senate.
  • Steven Burns, Judge of the District Court, 3rd Judicial District
    Burns has served on the Lancaster County District Court since his appointment to the bench in 1997. He was a lawyer in private practice from 1973 to 1997. Burns is one of Lincoln’s first judges to open his courtroom to cameras. His Nebraska Broadcaster Association-sponsored cameras are an educational asset to the Nebraska College of Journalism and Mass Communications and the College of Law where students have been able view his courtroom via live feed since 2008.
  • Richard Dooling, College of Law Lecturer
    Dooling has been teaching at the College of Law in 2008 after nearly 20 years in the publishing, television and film industries. He received his law degree from St. Louis University School of Law and worked in private practice for five years. He’s the author of five novels and two nonfiction books and is a regular contributor to the New York Times opinion page and often writes about technology and First Amendment issues. Dooling teaches mass communications law, as well as entertainment law, law and literature and legal profession.
  • Alan Peterson, Lincoln Trial Attorney
    For nearly 50 years has been counsel to various Nebraska news media, both in courts and in the state Legislature as the chief lobbyist and lawyer for the Nebraska Press Association and many individual members of the print and broadcast media. He served as counsel to the North Platte Telegraph at the time of the case. He contributed to the briefing of the case in the appellate courts and attended the early days of the jury selection and trial of the defendant, as well as the retrial after the original conviction and sentence were reversed for unconstitutional interference by the North Platte law enforcement with the jurors. Peterson received his law degree with distinction from the University of Nebraska College of Law in 1967.
  • Rose Ann Shannon, KETV News Director
    Shannon has held the news director position for 19 years. She has served on several committees that work to allow cameras in Nebraska courtrooms. In 2011, she joined the Media of Nebraska, a consortium of news organizations that deals with First Amendment issues.

Bill Kelly, senior producer with the Nebraska Educational Telecommunications (NET) will moderate the panel. Kelly oversees development, research and writing of TV documentaries and radio news stories for NET’s statewide network, as well as online content. Recently, Kelly has been concentrating on coverage of the state and federal courts and justice issues. His yearlong investigation into a botched homicide investigation that put two innocent men in jail earned Kelly an EMMY and two prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Awards from the Society of Professional Journalists.

“The Stuart decision ripples through every aspect of the work done by working journalists, from keeping the courts open to the media through ongoing debates about government secrecy and national security. It’s an essential part of protecting press freedom,” Kelly said. “This is going to be a fascinating discussion that should help people in the legal community and journalists understand how a four-decade-old court ruling is as fresh and relevant as ever.”

Nebraska Supreme Court Justice William Cassel will provide a closing. Cassel was appointed in April 2012, after having served for eight years as a judge of the Nebraska Court of Appeals, and for 12 years as a district court judge for the Eighth Judicial District of Nebraska. He graduated with distinction from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, College of Business Administration, with an accounting major, and received his law degree with distinction from the University of Nebraska College of Law. Judge Cassel began his legal career practicing law, first with his father and then as a solo practitioner, in Ainsworth, Nebraska. His general practice included all types of civil and criminal matters, including representing numerous cities, villages, school districts, public power districts and other public bodies.

A light lunch will be provided during the panel.

Attorneys can receive CLE credit for attending.

For more information about the event, contact Sue Roush, director of marketing and communications for the College of Journalism and Mass Communications or Amber Wolff, Director of Marketing and Digital Strategy for the College of Law.