NEW YORK (AP) - Salacious claims about the wife of an assistant Syracuse University basketball coach who was fired after claims that he molested boys have no bearing in a slander lawsuit two of the men brought against the team’s head coach, Jim Boeheim, a judge ruled Friday.
The hearing in Manhattan was about whether two former ball boys who accuse Boeheim of defamation could get names and addresses of former players on the team, among other information. The two men say some players may have had sex with Laurie Fine, the wife of fired assistant coach Bernie Fine. The request was part of a broader clash over the university’s and Boeheim’s request to move the case to Syracuse.
The men, Bobby Davis and Michael Lang, argued some of those players may live in New York City, bolstering their argument that the slander case should be tried there instead of moving it to Onondaga County, where Syracuse University is located.
Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Anil C. Singh denied the request, saying it “appears to be based on pure speculation” that some witnesses may live in Manhattan, so the men “do not have a good faith basis” to ask for the information as part of their argument to keep the case in the city.
Before the ruling, a lawyer for the men, Mariann Wang, argued that Laurie Fine’s alleged affairs point to an atmosphere of “dysfunctional” sexual relationships surrounding the Fines and that Boeheim knew or should have known what was going on around the program he has run for 36 seasons.
Laurie Fine’s lawyer has called the allegations “disgusting.” Bernie Fine has denied wrongdoing and hasn’t been charged. The U.S. Attorney’s office is investigating the claims of a third man, 23-year-old Zachary Tomaselli of Lewiston, Maine. The claims by Davis and Lang happened too long ago be investigated because the statute of limitations has expired.
The former ball boys sought addresses for all Syracuse basketball team members from 1992 to 1997, the names of anyone who may have had a sexual relationship with either Bernie or Laurie Fine and information on what the university or Boeheim knew about her alleged affairs with players and ball boys, among other information.
Neither Fine is a defendant in the lawsuit, which maintains that Boeheim defamed Davis and Lang by saying they were out for money after their abuse allegations surfaced.
“What is the relationship between the alleged conduct of Mrs. Fine and basketball players and the statements made by Boeheim?” Judge Singh asked.
“This was an element of the severe dysfunctional relationship that, apparently, Laurie and Bernie Fine had with one another” and others, Wang responded. “It goes directly to Boeheim’s knowledge. When he made the statements that our clients are liars and money-grubbers, effectively, what did he know?”
Singh disagreed when he denied the request pertaining to Laurie Fine’s alleged relationships with players.
“What Boeheim knew, or may have known, about the personal life of the assistant coach’s wife has no bearing on whether Boeheim’s public remarks in defense of the assistant coach were libelous,” he wrote.
Lawyers on all sides didn’t immediately return calls after the ruling.
At the hearing earlier Friday, lawyers for the university didn’t address the allegations about Laurie Fine, focusing instead on the request for information, legally known as discovery.
“I don’t see a legitimate need, based on the (legal arguments) and the status today, to give them any discovery,” said Helen Cantwell, a lawyer for the university.
Lang and Davis chose to sue in New York City, where their lawyers say some important witnesses may live. The university and Boeheim want the case moved to Onondaga County, noting that that’s where everything allegedly happened and that it’s home to the university, Boeheim and Davis. Lang lives in Oswego County, in central New York.
“There’s no proper venue here in (Manhattan),” Cantwell told the judge.
Davis and Lang’s lawyers, on the other hand, say the case can’t get a fair airing in Syracuse because of the stature the university, its basketball team and Boeheim enjoy there.
Boeheim is prominent and well-connected in the community, where the university is a major employer, Wang said.
“All of that, your honor, we think, does affect how people see things,” she said, “. even if they mean to do their best.”
Boeheim’s lawyers also were at the hearing but didn’t speak.
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