Updated 05/16/2012 07:37 PM
Legal aspects of Laurie Fine's lawsuit against ESPN
Laurie Fine is seeking both compensatory and punitive damages in her lawsuit against ESPN. Our Katie Gibas spoke with a legal expert about the case and tells us what Fine and her lawyer will have to prove to win.
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UNITED STATES -- Laurie Fine's lawsuit against ESPN seemed to come out of the blue.
"This is kind of a surprise, in a way, since you'd think that maybe Laurie Fine would want to avoid attention and avoid answering questions under oath about her knowledge about what happened with her husband and any of these kids because one thing this lawsuit does, is it will require her to give testimony under oath," said Paul DerOhannessian, a legal analyst.
The main argument in the case is that ESPN doctored a taped phone conversation between Laurie Fine and accuser Bobby Davis. The lawsuit claims they have scientific data to prove the tape was tampered with.
"Certainly if it can be shown that a news organization knowingly uses a false tape and it did not contain the information that they broadcast, that's a very serious allegation. We're going to have to wait and see whether or not there's scientific data that will back that claim," said DerOhannessian. "We don't know what that entire 47 minute tape is. This is part of the very significant allegation that this is a false or doctored tape that was aired that gave a totally wrong impression."
The main legal question is whether Laurie Fine is considered a public figure.
"If you're a public figure, there's a higher standard. You have to show actual malice. You have to show a ‘reckless disregard for the truth.’ And what the plaintiff seems to have done here is address that issue by making claims and supporting statements why they believe there was actual malice here and that ESPN knew that these were not credible allegations of abuse, yet ran with it. And they did it for commercial reasons and to try to piggyback on the Penn State scandal," said DerOhannessian.
Fine's lawyer asserts that she is not a public figure, but she has appeared on television and radio a number of times and has hosted her own shows. But her lawyer did prepare the lawsuit in a way that answers the questions required for defamation of a public figure.
"The suit also says that the only thing that has changed since ESPN originally decided that this was not worthy of being broadcast was their desire to maintain or piggyback on the publicity of the Penn State scandal," said DerOhannessian.
The lawsuit also documents the number of hits the story has gotten on social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter to show the extent of Fine's defamation.
Bobby Davis and Michael Lang's lawyer issued a statement in response to Laurie Fine's announcement that says,
"We would anticipate if Ms. Fine's case goes forward that our client will be a witness and will testify under oath as to the recorded statements and all other matters relevant to the complaint. It would be ironic if Ms. Fine is allowed to pursue her lawsuit claiming she was defamed when Bobby Davis was not permitted to pursue his defamation case against Coach Boeheim and Syracuse University."
Fine's lawsuit against ESPN comes just days after a judge dismissed Davis and Lang's defamation lawsuit against Boeheim. Allred is appealing that decision.