The wife of former Syracuse University associate head coach Bernie Fine plans to sue ESPN for libel, claiming that the TV network destroyed her reputation when it aired news stories about her husband late last year.
The attorneys for Laurie Fine say, in a written complaint, that ESPN reporter Mark Schwarz, and producer Arthur Becko "spitefully destroyed Laurie Fine's reputation" during its coverage of the Bernie Fine sexual abuse allegations. The complaint also claims ESPN attempted to "capitalize financially" on the story in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal at Penn State.
Fine and her attorney, Lawrence Fisher, held a news conference Wednesday morning to address the lawsuit, claiming that she was "smeared in the media as a monster" and that her "life was destroyed" as a result of the ESPN reports. Click here to watch video of the news conference.
Fisher, who is from Pittsburgh, would not answer specific questions about the lawsuit and said he has not yet filed the complaint.
Laurie Fine and her attorneys say ESPN, Schwarz, and Becko ruined her reputation by "maliciously publishing false and defamatory factual accusations", including reporting that she allegedly allowed her husband to sexually abuse children, had sex with Bernie Fine accuser Bobby Davis, and had sex with members of the Syracuse Orange men's basketball team.
In November, ESPN aired an audiotape reportedly of Fine discussing the sexual allegations with Davis. In her lawsuit, Fine claims Davis gave ESPN "an admittedly doctored, substantially inaudible, and entirely speculative tape, which Davis purported to be a recording of a telephone conversation between he and Laurie in 2002." The lawsuit goes on to claim the tape is "largely inaudible," and cites a Sports Illustrated article where Mark Schwarz is quoted as saying "It was not a perfect recording, either. It was a little scratchy and you could hear it, but you had to strain to hear exactly what was said. We had to sweeten the audio quality to make sure we understood the words better." Fine does say that it is her voice on the tape.
The lawsuit claims Schwarz "obsessed over Davis' story" and accuses Schwarz of spying on Laurie Fine and shooting a hidden camera video of her without her knowledge. Schwarz is accused of pressuring Davis to come forward with his accusations, even though Davis had "dropped his story" in recent years. The lawsuit says Davis came forward again after the Penn State scandal broke and subsequently convinced Lang to back him up. The lawsuit claims Schwarz and Berko "were aware of, or knowingly overlooked, countless reasons to seriously doubt Lang's credibility."
Schwarz is accused of losing his "journalistic objectivity" partly because he maintained contact with Davis for almost a decade and that he and Berko had "irrationally developed" ill will against the Fines since 2003.
Davis and his stepbrother Mike Lang have accused Bernie Fine of molesting them while they worked as team ballboys in the 1980s. Fine has denied these allegations, and no charges have been filed. Fine was fired from his job as associate head coach last November after more than 35 years with the team.
The lawsuit addresses the Fine's life in Syracuse and how they became involved with Davis. It cites Laurie Fine's involvement with the Boys and Girls Club and other charitable organizations. It also claims she was hired in 2011 by Galaxy to conduct a radio show discussing the SU men's basketball program. The lawsuit claims for many years the Fines provided a "home and family-like setting and support to at-risk children in the Syracuse" area.
In regards to Davis, Fine claims she and her husband gave him a home during a "difficult" period in his life, alleging that he was constantly getting into trouble at school. Fine says she and her husband believed Davis lacked the stability and positive influences to turn his life around, so they welcomed him into their home in an effort to provide stability and treated him as if he were their own son. According to the lawsuit, "Over time, a parental relationship strengthened between the Fines and Davis. In fact, when Davis got in trouble at school, the school called the Fines, not his biological parents?| in addition to providing Davis tough love, Bernie helped Davis get into colleges and on basketball teams through the US and in Germany."
Fine's attorney says she is not suing Bobby Davis or the Syracuse Post-Standard. ESPN tells the Associated Press that Laurie Fine's complaint is without merit and they stand by their reporting.
Davis and Lang are suing Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim and the University for defamation after Boeheim publicly called them liars while defending Bernie Fine. That case was recently dismissed by State Supreme Court Judge Brian DeJoseph, although Davis and Lang's attorney Gloria Allred says they are appealing that decision . We reached out to Gloria Allred for her reaction to Laurie Fine's announcement. She 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...We are dedicated to protecting the rights of both Bobby Davis and Mike Lang."
Bernie and Laurie Fine were married in 1985 and have three children. Bernie Fine was recently hired for a consulting job with an Israeli professional basketball team.
Click here to download and read the text of the complaint. (.pdf file)
(Information from CNY Central's Rae Fulkerson and Jim Kenyon and the Associated Press was used in this report.)