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Legal expert analyzes SU/Boeheim defamation suit

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Albany/HV: Legal expert analyzes SU/Boeheim defamation suit
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Two men accusing former Syracuse basketball coach Bernie Fine of sexual abuse may get their day in court. But it's not the one Bobby Davis and Mike Lang may have expected. And it, like their criminal case on which it seems the statute of limitations has run, may also be a long shot. Our Kat De Maria spoke with a legal expert about Davis and Lang's new case: Alleging defamation against Coach Jim Boeheim and Syracuse University.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- It's a story that, if true, started in the privacy of Bernie Fine's home. And now it's playing out on national TV.

Bobby Davis and Mike Lang have appeared on ESPN and CNN claiming the former Syracuse University associate basketball coach abused them as boys. Tuesday, they flanked high-profile attorney Gloria Allred in New York City accusing head coach Jim Boeheim of defamation for his comments following the allegations.

"Coach Jim Boeheim failed (them) by using his prestige and authority as coach for the Syracuse University basketball team to call Bobby and Mike Lang liars and having his statements attacking their credibility carried by nationwide media," Allred said.

According to legal expert Paul DerOhannesian, there are a few issues that could influence the outcome of the case.

"One has to do with whether the comments in question were matters of opinion. There's also the issue whether they were matters of opinion in something that concerned the public," DerOhannesian said.

DerOhannesian says Davis and Lang may have made their case a matter of public interest by going on TV. Allred directly addressed that concern.

"Bobby and Mike had not sought the attention of the press not to insert themselves into a public debate but because every private avenue Bobby had sought to bring Bernie Fine to the attention of police and the university had proven fruitless," Allred said.

Another issue is whether Boeheim's statements might have been true, based on what he knew when they were made. Boeheim said Davis and Lang are liars looking for money. The brothers are now seeking compensation, but weren't then. DerOhannesian says even if they prove their case, Davis and Lang won't necessarily see a big payday.

"Even if they overcome the initial barriers to a defamation suit, to what extent have they been damaged financially and economically?" DerOhannesian said.

DerOhannesian says Davis and Lang may be choosing to bring their civil suit now, while the criminal investigation into Bernie Fine is ongoing, because they only have a year from when Boeheim first made his statements to do so.

"You know the state prosecutors do not feel they can make a criminal case out of the allegations and there may not be any prosecutor who can develop a criminal case. So that's the balance that has to be struck in making a decision do you wait or do you bring a lawsuit," DerOhannesian said.

DerOhannesian says it's up to Syracuse University to decide where the story goes now, whether to fight Davis and Lang in court or just settle.

Boeheim and SU are not commenting on the lawsuit against them. No charges have been brought thus far against Bernie Fine, who maintains the allegations against him are false.

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