Don’t forget that there are two lawsuits spawned by the NCAA investigation of Ole Miss, the one Houston Nutt announced yesterday and the one a booster filed against two Mississippi State players who are alleged to have spoken to the NCAA about Ole Miss.
Attorneys for Mississippi State players Leo Lewis and Kobe Jones have both filed responses in Lafayette County to the lawsuit brought against both players by Oxford-based business Rebel Rags.
Rebel Rags attorney Charles Merkel confirmed to the Starkville Daily News on Wednesday that he has received the responses issued from Lewis’ and Jones’ respective attorneys.
Last month, Rebel Rags brought a lawsuit against Lewis, Jones and Lindsey Miller, who is the estranged stepfather of former Ole Miss player Laremy Tunsil. Case documents also list 15 John Does among the defendants. The case accused Lewis and Jones of defamation, commercial disparagement and civil conspiracy. Rebel Rags claims Lewis and Jones provided false statements to the NCAA about receiving free merchandise when the two players were recruits. Lewis and Jones were each supposedly interviewed by the NCAA during the investigation into Ole Miss.
Merkel said Lewis’ and Jones’ responses featured motions to be severed from the other defendants, motions to transfer venue and motions to dismiss.
John Wheeler, the lawyer for Lewis, told the SDN that he argues in his response that Rebel Rags’ suit is “fatally flawed” as the retail outlet is the only party in the case that has published any potentially damaging comments.
“On the merits, it is not permissible for an individual or entity to attempt to recover damages in civil court for defamation when the only publication of the alleged defamatory comment was made by the plaintiff that is the entity that seeks damages,” Wheeler said. “It’s also important to always remember that truth is an absolute defense to a claim of defamation. It always has been and always will be. I think it is really important to remember, from Leo Lewis’ standpoint, that any participation he had, if any, in an NCAA investigative process, because he is a scholar athlete at a participating institution, would be by NCAA rules, confidential. It would also be compulsory. He has no choice. He has to participate in those interviews. So whatever he did was compulsory. It was confidential. He hasn’t mentioned anything to anyone outside of that investigative process. For Rebel Rags to claim they’ve been defamed by Leo Lewis, when the only publication that has ever been made about this issue was made by Rebel Rags, I find disingenuous.
“Everything else in the public domain, whether it be from the NCAA or from the University of Mississippi was done with redactions and references to John Does. There was no specificity as to the student-athletes involved, or the boosters.”
Just like with Nutt’s suit, the problem this case poses for the school is that it could lead to sensitive information being pried out under oath from Ole Miss folks through the discovery process. That is probably not an optimal thing from the school’s standpoint. Unfortunately, and unlike the Nutt litigation, as the school is not a party to the suit, it isn’t in a position to settle the matter pre-discovery.
Popcorn. We’re gonna need more popcorn.