SYRACUSE, N.Y. – A judge who heard arguments over whether two former ball boys suing Syracuse University and head basketball coach Jim Boeheim for slander can get a fair hearing in this basketball-loving city expects to decide on a trial location by Wednesday.
Bobby Davis and Michael Lang claim Boeheim defamed them by saying they were out for money after their allegations of abuse by former assistant coach Bernie Fine surfaced in November. They filed their defamation lawsuit in New York City and are fighting a move to hear it in Syracuse.
Mariann Wang, the lawyer representing the two men, told the judge that Boeheim and the university have "extensive and deep influence" in the Syracuse area that would make it difficult to seat an impartial jury. Wang said the university is a major employer, its No. 2-ranked team is immensely popular locally and Boeheim is so well known he doesn't even have to identify himself on local TV commercials.
"Boeheim has enormous standing in the community," she said.
Lawyers for Boeheim and the university want the case moved to Syracuse, partly because none of the parties lives in New York City. The university's lawyer, Mary Beth Hogan, dismissed the notion that every potential juror near Syracuse would be biased. She noted that Davis in an affidavit talked about a stranger hugging him for his courage and noted that Boeheim was the target of criticism from locals after media reports of his initial reaction of the allegations against Fine.
"We have every reason to believe the court will be able to impanel an impartial jury here in Onondaga County," she told the judge.
State Supreme Court Justice Brian DeJoseph said he expects to rule by Wednesday afternoon.
Davis and his stepbrother Lang claim Fine repeatedly forcibly touched them in the 1980s. Fine has since been fired. The lawsuit claims Boeheim "knew or should have known" about the alleged conduct of his assistant.
Boeheim vehemently supported his longtime assistant when the accusations broke and called Davis a liar and opportunist looking to cash in on the publicity surrounding the Penn State sex abuse scandal. Boeheim later apologized amid criticism from victims' rights advocates. He said he based his initial comments on a 2005 university investigation that failed to corroborate Davis' claims.
Bernie Fine has denied wrongdoing and hasn't been charged.
The claims by Davis and Lang happened too long ago be investigated. But the U.S. Attorney's office is investigating the claims of a third man, 23-year-old Zachary Tomaselli of Lewiston, Maine.
Boeheim and the university have made legal moves to dismiss the lawsuit.