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Implications of lawsuit against SU, Boeheim

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Albany/HV: Implications of lawsuit against SU, Boeheim
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News of the lawsuit against Syracuse University and head basketball coach Jim Boeheim quickly spread to the SU Hill. Our Katie Gibas spoke with a media law professor at the college about the implications of this lawsuit.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- For Syracuse University students, it's been tough to watch the Bernie Fine scandal unfold right in front of their eyes. Now Fine's accusers are suing the University and head basketball coach Jim Boeheim personally for defamation of character.

"I think they're trying to stay in the spotlight as much as they can. But coach, he did come out with some comments that were a little fiery at that point, so I think they do have a case," said Kevin Fitzgerald, a Syracuse University sophomore.

Drew Davis, a Syracuse University freshman, added, "Jim Boeheim was defending his friend at the time. A friend of 50 years is a friend of 50 years. If anybody accused my best friends, these two kids, of something without any evidence first that I didn't know of, I would defend them and of course call the accusers liars."

In his initial response to the allegations against Bernie Fine, Boeheim called accusers Bobby Davis and Michael Lang liars who were just out for money.

"One of Syracuse's most respected individuals had already told the world repeatedly that Bobby Davis and Mike Lang were nothing but liars, out for money and nothing else. Boeheim has not suffered any consequences in his employment for using his position of power within the University to make these false, inflammatory and injurious statements about Bobby and Mike," said Gloria Allred, Davis' and Lang's attorney.

Roy Gutterman is a Media Law Professor and the Director of the Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University. He says if brought to trial, there's no clear cut answer in this case.

"Calling someone a liar in public can have defamatory impact, however, the venue for this, the way the statement was published might not lead to liability either. This could be a case of pure opinion, which is protected in this state," said Gutterman.

But Gutterman says he thinks it's premature to bring a lawsuit now, though he understands the reasoning behind suing.

"Everybody involved in this is trying to figure out what happened and there still hasn't been a resolution on any of the underlying issues. Some of these issues might not ever be resolved. It just seems a little early right now to bring a lawsuit. It looks like a roundabout way to get their day in court. But they also want to clear their names, that's what defamation law is all about," said Gutterman.

Gutterman says he doesn't think anything will happen with the case in the near future because in order to bring the defamation case before a judge, there will need to be some answers to questions raised in the initial allegations against Bernie Fine.

Neither Coach Jim Boeheim nor Syracuse University will comment on the lawsuit.

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