Last Friday, a judge dismissed a defamation lawsuit targeting Syracuse University’s men’s basketball coach, Jim Boeheim. The suit was filed by two former ball boys, Bobby Davis and Michael Lang. The men received national news attention when they accused an assistant coach for Syracuse’s basketball program, Bernie Fine, of sexually abusing them. The alleged abuse took place decades ago. Boeheim quickly came to the defense of his fellow coach and accused Davis and Lang of concocting the allegations.
Boeheim Defamation Lawsuit Background
Lang and Davis first leveled their accusations in November of 2011, shortly after the sex scandal involving Penn State and Jerry Sandusky stormed onto the national news scene. Boeheim vigorously and publicly maintained Fine’s innocence from the moment the story broke.
In an interview with ESPN, Boeheim said that Davis’s story was nothing more than lies, concocted to profit from the Penn State scandal, which claimed the careers of college football legend Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier. In response, Lang and Davis hired a well-known attorney, Gloria Allred, and sued for defamation. Their complaint was filed in late December of 2011.
Judge DeJoseph Throws Out Defamation Lawsuit
A New York Supreme Court Justice, Brian DeJoseph, issued the ruling in a 30-page decision. DeJospeh, an alumn of Syracuse University, held that Boeheim’s statements were clearly meant to convey the coach’s opinion; to the extent they relied on facts, the court said, Boeheim disclosed the basis for his opinions. This is a critical distinction in defamation law because statements of opinion are generally protected unless they imply the existence of undisclosed facts. If, for instance, Boeheim had said: “Knowing what I know, the stories cannot be true,” the case would likely have ended differently. However, having described the stories being told by Lang and Davis before relating Fine’s version of events, Boeheim was free to comment on which side he believed.
Allred has already announced that her clients plan to appeal the ruling. According to Allred, the court’s decision makes it virtually impossible for victims of abuse to make the already difficult decision to face their attackers. As she said in an interview: “This decision sends the message that you can attack the alleged victim and call him a liar with impunity.”
Boeheim has apologized repeatedly for his comments but has ignored calls from victim advocacy groups for his resignation. Boeheim has acknowledged that it was improper to attack Fine’s accusers by questioning their motives. He told reporters that he did so based on the results of an internal university investigation that concluded in 2005.
No charges will be filed against Fine involving these allegations because the statute of limitations has expired. Federal authorities briefly investigated Fine after a third man, Zachary Tomaselli, surfaced to press abuse allegations. Tomaselli quickly admitted he was lying, and, in an ironic turn, was subsequently arrested on charges of sexual abuse.
Fine continues to maintain his innocence. He recently accepted a position as a consultant for an Israeli basketball team.