ALBANY, N.Y. ― Two former Syracuse University ball boys urged the state’s highest court Tuesday to reinstate their slander lawsuit against basketball head coach Jim Boeheim.
Bobby Davis and Mike Lang claim Boeheim slandered them in 2011 by calling them liars out for money when they accused his longtime assistant coach Bernie Fine of molesting them as children.
A judge dismissed the suit last year, ruling Boeheim’s comments were not assertions of fact but opinions protected from defamation lawsuits. A midlevel court, divided 3-2, affirmed that ruling.
Fine has denied the allegations and never faced criminal charges.
On Tuesday, the men’s attorney Mariann Meier Wang argued before the Court of Appeals that Boeheim accused her clients of extortion. She said he used inaccurate and distorted supporting facts in his statements to reporters that he knew them, they had lied, they were trying to get money and they had tried before.
“He clearly stated my clients were lying about the sexual abuse,” Wang said. Boeheim’s statements that they weren’t sexually abused as children and tried to get money previously are factual statements that can be proved true or false, she said.
Boeheim attorney Helen Cantwell countered that he expressed opinions in an emotional defense of his longtime friend and himself.
“I think the overwhelming gist of what he’s saying is this guy has come forward, and no one has been able to corroborate it,” Cantwell said, noting that was the conclusion already in an investigation by the university.
The court’s ruling is expected next month. If they reject the appeal, the state case is over. If they reinstate it, an eventual trial or settlement would follow.
“We just want our clients to have their day in court,” Wang said afterward, when asked about possible damages they might seek.
Davis and Lang attended Tuesday’s arguments.
Davis said, “I think they (the university) didn’t handle it right at first. We didn’t appreciate how Mr. Boeheim came out and said things about us. I mean, that hurt us a lot.”
Cantwell and university officials left without commenting.