Score One for the NCAA as Judge Overturns $5 Million Verdict

Jun 6, 2008

An Alabama state court judge has granted the NCAA’s motion for a new trial, throwing out a $5 million verdict that a jury awarded to a University of Alabama booster in a defamation case.
A Jackson County jury awarded plaintiff Ray Keller $5 million on Nov. 29, 2007, agreeing with the plaintiff that the NCAA’s 2002 report of its investigation of him and two other Alabama boosters into alleged recruitment violations destroyed Keller’s reputation and resulted in his losing more than $500,000. In that report, the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions described the three men as “rogue,” “pariahs” and “parasites.”
Alabama state circuit court judge William Gordon held that the jury had been swayed by passion or prejudice during the trial.
“It is true that the (infractions committee) report uses some hard language and perhaps exercises some literary license,” Gordon wrote. “But its conduct did not cause Keller any physical harm; it did not cause him any real economic harm; (and) he is not financially vulnerable.”
A key decision in the ruling centered on the testimony of David Swank, a former chairman of the NCAA Committee on Infractions, who had testified that the NCAA broke some of its own bylaws in prosecuting the Alabama case. Gordon held that the previous judge in the case had erred in permitting Swank to testify as an expert witness on plaintiff’s behalf because he offered opinions that had not been previously disclosed to NCAA attorneys..
Robert Rutherford, a Birmingham attorney and outside counsel for the NCAA, told the media: “We always felt it was an important case because Mr. Keller was attacking the ability of the Committee on Infractions to speak freely.”
In the ruling last fall, a jury awarded him $3 million for punitive damages, $1 million for mental anguish, $500,000 for economic loss and $500,000 for presumed damages to reputation.


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