MLRC: Laurie Fine’s lawsuit against ESPN difficult to prove

Laurie Fine, the wife of former Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine, will have a hard time going forward on her lawsuit against ESPN and two of its employees, said an attorney at an independent media law organization on Wednesday.

Fine announced that she would be filing a lawsuit in Federal Court against ESPN and ESPN employees Arthur Berko and Mark Schwarz for libel on Wednesday morning. The announcement was made at Belhurst Castle in Geneva with her attorney, Lawrence Fisher, present.

But David Heller, a staff attorney at the Media Law Resource Center, believes Fine will have a difficult time meeting her burden.

» Related: Laurie Fine to sue ESPN

“As in all libel suits, the plaintiff has to prove that the statements at issue are false and were published with fault,” Heller said. “So even if she can prove the statements by ESPN are false, she has to also be able to prove that they were published recklessly.”

The MLRC, founded in 1980, is a non-profit membership association for media defense lawyers. It mainly consists of lawyers who specialize in defending the press in libel, privacy and related claims.

In November, ESPN’s Outside the Lines aired a report where two former Syracuse ballboys, Michael Lang and Bobby Davis, accused Bernie Fine of molesting them in the 1970s and 80s. The network later aired a recorded conversation between Fine and Davis, where Fine suggested she knew of an inappropriate relationship between Davis and Bernie Fine.

» What do you think of the lawsuit?

Fisher said that the recording had been manipulated and certain portions of the recording were taken out of context.

Fine was fired after the tape was released. No criminal charges have been filed against him.

Heller went on to say that few libel cases against the press go to trial.

“Most are dismissed before trial,” Heller said, “because the plaintiff cannot prove the claim.”

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Wes Cheng

About Wes Cheng

Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also worked for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @ChengWes.
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