School: No proof of false or malicious statements
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A lawyer for St. Bonaventure University asked a federal judge Wednesday to dismiss former athletic director Gothard Lane's libel lawsuit over last year's basketball player eligibility scandal.
In the school's first legal response to the lawsuit, lawyer Judy Hernandez argued that Lane failed to show that statements made against him were false or malicious.
Lane sued the school in U.S. District Court in Buffalo in April, accusing university officials of maliciously damaging his reputation through comments to the media and in a review committee's report on the scandal. He is seeking at least $3 million in damages.
The Atlantic 10 Conference sanctioned the Bonnies men's basketball program in March 2003 for using junior forward Jamil Terrell, who was ruled ineligible for failing to meet NCAA junior college transfer guidelines. Terrell earned a certificate in welding at a community college before transferring to St. Bonaventure.
Lane eventually resigned, and his tenure at the school ended in May 2003. He had already been informed that his contract would not be renewed.
Lane's attorney, Charles Swanekamp, was not immediately available for comment.
Lane, who remains out of work, has said he questioned Terrell's eligibility from the beginning but was consistently rebuked by school President Robert Wickenheiser.
Noting that he was cleared by NCAA investigation in February, Lane argued that St. Bonaventure was wrong to conclude he had violated NCAA rules regarding institutional control and to blame him for compromising the school's integrity.
Hernandez argued that the review committee report was an expression of opinion, which is protected under libel law. She also said the committee's findings were similar to NCAA conclusions.
The NCAA ruled that Lane had not committed any violations but had undermined the role of St. Bonaventure's NCAA compliance officer, Barbara Hick-Questa, by removing the men's basketball program from her responsibilities.
Hernandez also said the school went out of its way to credit Lane for his work. She said a press release regarding Lane's resignation noted that "there were many positive aspects" to his employment and that he had served the university well. The press release also characterized Lane's conduct in the scandal as a mistake.
Lane's lawsuit is the first of two resulting from the scandal. Former coach Jan van Breda Kolff, who is now an assistant coach with the NBA New Orleans Hornets, also sued in April, claiming he was wrongfully dismissed last year.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press