I would like to thank Walter and Ted for having me here at Overlawyered and thank everyone for reading. I return now to chronicling the intersection of sports, law and life at the Sports Law Blog. It has been a fun week, though, and I have learned a great deal. Hopefully, through efforts like this blog, people will understand that litigation is not the answer to every problem, so that the courts may focus on the rights of those that truly have no other recourse. P.S. from W.O.: Sports Law Blog can be found here.
“The jury wanted to punish Ben Waldrep for holding a house-giveaway contest it had decided was bogus, but when jurors awarded punitive damages Monday, they wound up dealing him a much harsher financial blow than intended. The jurors apparently meant to have the contest’s 1,800 entrants split $1 million. But they accidentally awarded each of them $1 million. That means, officially anyway, Waldrep has been ordered to cough up $1.8 billion.” Superior Court Judge Andria Richey is expected to lower the damage amount on motion by the defense, but she did not question the jury at all about the amount before releasing them. (Josh Grossberg, “Mistake by jury gives essay writers a $1 billion windfall,” Daily Breeze, Feb. 8).
Logan Young loves Alabama football. He loves it so much that he paid a Memphis-area high school coach $150,000 in exchange for the coach steering a top recruit to Alabama. This act was certainly immoral and violated about twenty NCAA violations. But because the coach works for a public school, the act was also bribery of a state official. And so the federal government prosecuted Young under RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act), and convicted him for conspiracy, bribery and money laundering. (AP, “Shady boosters can now fear federal prosecutors,” (Feb. 5); “The real outrage was Young’s conduct,” Birmingham News, Feb. 6). Was this really the best use of government resources? RICO, a statute originally targeted at organized crime, has been extended far beyond this purpose and is now used to go after abortion protestors and immoral boosters. I do not agree with what Logan did, but I would argue that the detriment to society is not so great to warrant such an expenditure of tax dollars and judicial resources.
A few days ago I noted that a high school coach landed a $700,000 victory against an out-of-control parent (Feb. 4). Now another irate sports parent has ended up in court. Demetri Antoniou approached a player he felt was threatening his son and warned him to “stay away from my (expletive) kid.” “The Dec. 10, 2001, incident was over in a matter of seconds. The man…never made contact with the boy…” But the parents of the boy he approached took offense and filed a lawsuit for unspecified damages. “Antoniou’s attorney says his client admits that he said things he now wishes he hadn’t. But he denies threatening Hale and thinks a lawsuit is an out-of-proportion response to the situation.” (Gregory Kesich, “Outburst at son’s game lands father in court,” Portland (ME) Press Herald, Feb. 4).
“Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro has asked the Ohio Supreme Court to sanction four lawyers who handled a legal challenge, later withdrawn, to last year’s presidential election in Ohio.” The challenge focused on the long lines faced by voters, a claimed shortage of voting machines in African-American neighborhoods, and potential fraud. The AG’s motion calls the election challenge “meritless” and claims it was done for “partisan political purposes.” The motion continues, “A contest proceeding is not a toy for idle hands. It is not to be used to make a political point, or to be used as a discovery tool, or used to inconvenience or harass public officials, or to be used as a publicity gimmick. [It] is a wholly inappropriate forum to address the localized problems of long lines, shortages of machines, failing to receive notice of the proper voting precinct or casting of provisional ballots.” (Reginald Fields, “Attorney general’s call to punish lawyer is reply to election challenge,” Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Jan. 19; Editorial, “Blaming the messengers,” N.Y. Times, Feb. 3). See also earlier posts (Dec. 20; Dec. 15.)
“A nonprofit group that objects to a 2001 [GAO] report on Title IX, the 1972 law that bars gender discrimination at schools receiving federal funds, has decided to sue the messenger. The report, ‘Intercollegiate Athletics: Four-Year Colleges’ Experiences Adding and Discontinuing Teams,’ found that the number of men’s and women’s sports teams both increased from 1981 to 1999, although the rise in men’s teams was smaller. The report was a blow to critics who argued that enforcement of Title IX had encouraged colleges and universities to cut men’s programs to comply with the law.” So, one group hurt by the study, the College Sports Council, decided to sue, claiming that the methodology was flawed and that the results have “misled” Congress. Comptroller General David M. Walker said that this is the first time the GAO has been sued over the contents of a report. But, as Walker said, “In America, anybody can sue anybody about anything.” (Christopher Lee, “Nonprofit Sues GAO Over Title IX Report,” Wash. Post, Jan. 10).
As I reported over on Sports Law (Feb. 1) and is also reported on Common Good (scroll down), disgruntled parents should beware the potential wrath of their children’s coaches. Parent Marc Martinez was not happy with his son’s baseball coach, John Emme, and filed a lawsuit against him “alleging that [coach Emme] hurt his son’s chances at a college baseball scholarship” by forcing him to throw too many pitches and by making “derogatory comments about [his] pitching ability to potential college coaches.” ( Martinez’s son had a 4-7 record that year.) The case received both local and national media attention and Martinez was not kind in his descriptions of Emme. So, Emme countersued for damage to his reputation. The jury favored Emme, dismissing Martinez’s claims against him and awarding the coach $700,000. Said one juror, “I think this should send a message to parents.” (Dave McKibben, “Corona del Mar High Coach Big Winner in Slander Suit,” L.A. Times, Jan. 28).
Michael Jordan sued his ex-lover in 2002, claiming that she attempted to extort $5 million from him. The woman, Karla Knafel, countersued and claimed that “Jordan owed her the money for remaining silent and agreeing not to file a paternity suit after she became pregnant.” The district court dismissed the case, stating that the claim was extortionate and against public policy. The state appellate court, in a ruling yesterday, overturned this ruling and reinstated the case. The court wrote that the claim “is not inherently coercive or exploitive or motivated by an improper influence” and should only have been dismissed “if it is clearly apparent that no set of facts can be proven” entitling her to win. “We find that whether this particular oral agreement was exploitive or coercive is a matter best left to the trier of fact.” (Mickey Ciokajlo, “Jordan Headed Back to Court,” Chicago Trib., Feb. 4).
The California Supreme Court has agreed to review a judgment of $500 million against Genentech, a California biotechnology company. The judgment, which was upheld by an intermediate state appellate court, awards $300 million in compensatory damages and $200 million in punitive damages to the City of Hope, a cancer research center. Genentech and City of Hope collaborated in the 1970s on a methodology for inserting human genes into bacteria and using them to produce medically useful proteins, such as insulin. This development led to the first drugs made by the biotech industry. Genentech held the patents on these technologies and was to pay royalties to City of Hope. City of Hope claims that through fraud and concealment, Genentech cheated the research center out of hundreds of millions of dollars. (Bob Egelko, “State’s highest court steps in Genentech dispute over royalties to be heard by justices,” S.F. Chron, Feb. 3).
Genentech claims that the contract required royalty payments only on patents using DNA synthesized by City of Hope. The appeal does not focus as much on the compensatory damages for breach of contract, but stresses that assessing punitive damages sets a dangerous precedent. Genentech and amici warn that assessing tort liability may stifle innovation by “reduc[ing] investment in research and development for [intellectual property] that is not yet patented — that is, the very newest technologies with the greatest potential social value.” (Mike McKee, “Calif. Justices to Review $500 Million Judgment Against Genentech,” The Recorder, Feb. 3). The knowledge that they could be liable for punitive damages if a mistake is made could prevent a number of biotech companies and research facilities from collaborating with one another, impeding biomedical and scientific development. The ruling also affects any other type of royalty agreement.
In December, Kevin Lindsey, a public school teacher and principal for thirty years, was arrested and “charged with two counts of child abuse, two counts of second-degree sex offense and one count of third-degree sex offense.” His name, and the allegations that he had abused two students in the late 1970s, made headlines in his community. Three weeks later, the charges were dropped because of a lack of evidence about the girls’ “recovered memories” and everything went back to normal for Mr. Lindsey. Right?
Not quite. Though he has been reinstated as the principal of his school after briefly being reassigned to the district office, one can only imagine the long-term damage done to his reputation. Now he has filed suit against the women, asking for $8 million for “malicious prosecution, defamation and invasion of privacy.” (Sara Neufeld, “Principal files lawsuit against accusers,” Baltimore Sun, Feb. 2).