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Pressler wins appeals ruling

9/1/2009

RALEIGH, N.C. -- A North Carolina appeals court has ruled
that Duke's former men's lacrosse coach can pursue a slander
lawsuit against the school and its former spokesman.

Mike Pressler had settled with the school in March 2007 after he was fired
following a stripper's false accusations in 2006 that she was raped
at a team party.

But the coach's lawsuit says Duke violated the
settlement when a former spokesman made disparaging comments about
Pressler to the media.

Duke's attorneys had argued the slander and libel claims should be handled through arbitration, rather than in court. Pressler's lawyers, however, argued that arbitration could limit what the former coach is able to get in damages.

On Tuesday, the three-judge Court of Appeals panel ruled that Pressler's obligation to arbitrate his claims was voided by his settlement agreement with Duke, agreeing with a trial court judge's decision.

An attorney for Duke had argued at an appeals court hearing in January that the arbitration requirement remained despite the settlement.

"Here there is no doubt or question regarding the language of the mutual release. The parties clearly stated their mutual intent that the mutual release fully and finally resolve their disputes and that 'all earlier agreements' be canceled," Judge Ann Marie Calabria wrote for the appeals court panel.

Duke spokesman Michael Schoenfeld declined to say whether the university planned to appeal further to the state Supreme Court. He said the school will continue contesting Pressler's case.

"Duke intends to defend these claims whether in an arbitration proceeding or in a court proceeding," Schoenfeld said.

Pressler coached at Duke for 16 seasons, and was the only Duke official who lost his job as a result of the case.

He now coaches lacrosse at Bryant University in Rhode Island. He was picked by the U.S. sport's governing body to coach the men's national lacrosse team at the 2010 world championships in England.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.