Newspaper, ex-reporter locked in legal battle over JonBenet files

Thursday, May 7, 1998

Former journalist Allison Krupski will answer to charges of theft in a trial that is scheduled to begin in December. Not only will the Boulder, Colo., Daily Camera cover that trial, it will be the plaintiff in the case.

The newspaper sued Krupski last December after discovering that she, its lead reporter on the JonBenet Ramsey murder case, had removed from the newsroom $15,000 in files, documents and records relating to the investigation.

In January, a judge determined the ex-reporter had a right to keep the documents but allowed the Camera to receive copies. Krupski complied and the newspaper sought to dismiss their case “without prejudice,” meaning it could be re-filed at any time.

Ordinarily that would be the end of the case of the missing files. Krupski, however, wants to have her day in court.

In addition to invasion of privacy and outrageous conduct, Krupski charges in a recently filed countersuit that the newspaper defamed her by calling her a thief. To that end, her attorney asked a judge to deny the Camera's request for dismissal, saying the paper “should not be allowed to retreat and declare victory.”

In April, district court Judge Daniel Hale denied the newspaper's request for dismissal, setting the stage for December's trial. “This Court finds that based on its preliminary findings, there is a substantial likelihood that defendant would prevail on the merits of at least the theft claim,” Hale wrote in his opinion.

The publicity surrounding the case, Krupski's attorney says, caused the 23-year-old to suffer a loss of earnings, damage to her personal and business reputation, public humiliation, embarrassment and emotional distress. Krupski's attorney William Meyer said the award-winning reporter is no longer working in journalism.

Meyer said he believes there are First Amendment issues inherent in the case, “particularly whether reporters are entitled to keep copies of public documents that they gather as part of their work, or whether a publisher can stop a reporter by legal process from keeping copies of public documents.”

“I've had dozens of inquiries,” he said. “No one's come forward to say they're on one side or the other, but I suspect the outcome will be watched with great interest by both reporters and media organizations, because to some extent the issue is whether a media organization 'owns' a story and the public information related to that story such that it could stop its former employees from using that information.”

The Camera has since published a number of stories on its Web site discussing the JonBenet documents. “Those were widely read, and one of the issues in our counterclaim relates to the Camera's actions concerning the manner in which it publicized the story. … The impact of their accusations in the stories has been very severe,” Meyer said.

“This is an interesting situation where the newspaper is not reporting on a dispute between two third parties but instead is reporting on a dispute where it is one of the litigants,” Meyer said.

Laurin D. Quiat, a Denver-based First Amendment attorney representing the Camera, said that at the moment he sees no First Amendment issues in the case.

“This may become a First Amendment case, but right now the issue in this case involves property” rights, Quiat said. “Who owns the documents? In our view the documents she purchased for the paper from other sources such as autopsy reports, search warrants and arrest reports” are the Camera's property.