Suit demands $25 million in damages and fees

Updated: December 1, 2004, 3:28 PM ET
Associated Press

DETROIT -- Former Detroit Tiger Cecil Fielder sued the Detroit Newspaper Agency and a Detroit News reporter over articles reporting that the slugger lost about $47 million from gambling and bad business decisions.

The libel suit, filed Nov. 23 in Wayne County Circuit Court, accuses the Detroit Newspaper Agency and reporter Fred Girard of defaming and slandering the three-time All Star by reporting that he was "in hiding," "not in contact with his family," not supporting his daughter financially, and had an "unstoppable gambling compulsion," according to the suit.

The agency runs the paper's business and production operations. The paper is owned by Gannett Co.

The suit demands $25 million in damages and fees. Lawyers for Fielder said they asked for a retraction but never got it.

"His name is now associated in the public with family abandonment and compulsive gambling," Steve Weiss, a lawyer for Fielder, said Wednesday.

Mark Silverman, publisher and editor of The Detroit News, declined comment. Girard referred questions to lawyer James E. Stewart, who did not immediately return a message left at his office.

The suit also names Al Arostegui, a real estate agent in Coconut Grove, Fla., who sold Fielder a home in 1995 and told the newspaper that "gambling caused Cecil Fielder's empire to collapse," one of the phrases the suit specifically cites as defamatory.

Arostegui declined to comment on the suit, saying he had not been served with it or seen it.

The News on Oct. 17 ran a story by Girard headlined "Gambling shatters ex-Tiger's dream life." Using court documents from Fielder's divorce case and a suit brought against him by Trump Plaza Hotel and Casinos in New Jersey, as well as interviews with family members and associates, the story describes credit accounts at casinos and debts to credit card companies and several banks. It also depicts difficulties within the Fielder family, and describes how the Florida mansion he owned now sits empty.

Fielder's lawyers said the stories exaggerated the gambling and reported incorrect information.

In a follow up story Oct. 21, Fielder told the News he planned to repay his debts, saying: "I'm going to be a man about it. I'm going to take care of all my responsibilities."

The stories also appeared in USA Today.

Fielder, whose playing career ended in 1998, led the American League with 51 home runs and 132 RBIs for Detroit in 1990. During a four-year span with the Tigers he totaled 160 homers and 506 RBIs.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press