2 men sue Syracuse, Boeheim for defamation

By Rachel Cohen

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 13 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Davis, now 39, said in the lawsuit that Fine molested him beginning in 1984 and that the sexual contact continued until he was around 27. A ball boy for six years, Davis said the abuse occurred at Fine's home, at Syracuse basketball facilities and on team road trips, including the 1987 Final Four.

Lang, 45, has told ESPN that Fine began molesting him while he was in fifth or sixth grade.

The suit said Boeheim's office was always near Fine's — and next door at times — and that Fine's door was generally open, except when Davis was inside with the assistant coach. The lawsuit contradicts Boeheim's assertion to the Post-Standard that Davis went on road trips only if he was babysitting Fine's kids; the suit said he traveled with the team before Fine had children and at times when the assistant didn't bring along his family.

The suit includes Davis' assertion that Boeheim saw Davis lying on the bed in Fine's hotel room in his shorts during the 1987 Final Four. In a Nov. 17 telephone interview with The Associated Press, Boeheim denied ever going to the assistant's room, much less seeing Davis there.

"This kid came forward, and there was no one to corroborate his story. Not one. Not one," Boeheim told the AP. "... They said I walked into Bernie's room on the road and saw this. I have never walked into Bernie's room on the road. This isn't true. This just isn't true."

The suit said Boeheim "made each of these statements knowing they were false or recklessly disregarding their truth or falsity."

The suit requests special, compensatory and punitive damages in an amount to be determined at trial. Allred said the university was included because she believed it was legally liable for Boeheim's statements as an employee who often spoke to the media on Syracuse's behalf.

Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said last week that Davis was credible, but he couldn't investigate under state law because the statute of limitations had expired.

The statute of limitations in New York to bring a civil suit for child sexual abuse is five years after the victim turns 18, though there have been several legislative attempts recently to open a one-year window for older incidents.

Allred said she would work with state lawmakers to change the rules.

"That's not the reason we are filing," she said of the lack of options for Davis and Lang to pursue the charges. "The reason we are filing is we have reason to believe our clients were defamed."

Under New York case law, defamation is "making a false statement which tends to expose a person to public contempt, ridicule, aversion or disgrace." Accusing someone of a crime they didn't commit is by nature defamatory, which in this case could mean accusing the two men of lying to authorities.

Albany lawyer Kevin Luibrand, who has two pending defamation cases, said it always comes down to the exact words someone used. Luibrand, who was unfamiliar with Boeheim's precise quotes, said the coach could argue that he made the statements based on what he thought was true.

However, acknowledging later he was — or may have been — wrong, as Boeheim did, doesn't undo the initial false statement.

"The truth is always a defense," Luibrand said. "The statements don't necessarily have to be truthful but based on a belief they are truthful."

Davis said he was suing so victims of abuse would not be afraid to come forward.

"We're grateful any time a child sex abuse victim finds the courage to take action against a child predator," David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a statement. "That's an enormous benefit of civil litigation — it can help uncover evidence of complicity by a predator's colleagues and supervisors, and thus deter others from keeping secret about possible child sex crimes in the future."

Associated Press Writer Michael Virtanen in Albany and AP Sports Writer John Kekis in Syracuse contributed to this report.

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