KET loses bid to dismiss Libertarian candidate’s lawsuit over debate

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A U.S. District Court judge in Kentucky has denied a public television station’s request to dismiss a lawsuit from a Libertarian candidate who wants to participate in a televised debate next week.

U.S. Senate candidate David Patterson, along with the state and national Libertarian parties, filed suit Sept. 28 in U.S. District Court in Frankfort, contending state licensee Kentucky Educational Television violated his First Amendment rights by excluding him from the debate. Patterson also asked the court to order KET to include him in the Oct. 13 forum, where incumbent Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell is scheduled to appear with Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes.

In response, KET claimed that Patterson had waited weeks to file suit despite knowing about the debate since at least Aug. 18. Due to that delay, KET stated in its request for dismissal, “all aspects of a complex constitutional lawsuit, from discovery to trial to appeal, now must be compressed” into less than 10 business days. The timing of Patterson’s suit “severely prejudices” KET, its complaint said.

District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove disagreed. Patterson, he wrote in his decision Monday, “just did not act fast enough for the defendants’ liking.” Van Tatenhove noted that in a similar 1998 Supreme Court case, Arkansas Educational Television Commission v. Ralph P. Forbes, the candidate took 45 days to file suit. The high court ultimately found in favor of AETC, 6-3, which established precedent that public TV stations could bar candidates from debates for journalistic discretion but not for political viewpoints.

In this case, “Patterson could not have had knowledge of the fact that he would not be invited to the debate early enough to make this anything other than what it is — a last-minute request for injunctive relief,” Van Tatenhove wrote.

“When parties request injunctive relief,” he added, “things are commonly rushed and this case is no exception. While it might be an inconvenience to KET, this is not a reason to justify dismissal.”

At a hearing set for Thursday at the federal courthouse in Lexington, the judge will hear evidence and determine whether KET must include Patterson in the debate, which will take place on the station’s Kentucky Tonight public affairs program.