News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

Cottrell suit receiving new trial

By John Zenor
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Supreme Court on Friday upheld a Tuscaloosa judge's order for a new trial in the defamation suit brought by former Alabama football coach Ronnie Cottrell against former recruiting analyst Tom Culpepper.

Tuscaloosa County Circuit Judge Steve Wilson had ordered a new trial after throwing out a $30 million verdict for Cottrell returned by a jury.

In an 8-0 ruling, the justices agreed that a new trial was necessary, but declined to reinstate former Crimson Tide assistant Ivy Williams as a plaintiff or the NCAA as a defendant.

"I think the ruling basically vindicates the legal position of the NCAA in its entirety," NCAA attorney Robert Rutherford said.

Delaine Mountain, an attorney for the two coaches, said Cottrell would continue fighting.

"The fact that the NCAA is out of it and the fact that Williams is out of it is a blow to us," Mountain said. "We're terribly disappointed about that, but we'll take whatever we've got and we'll go back and go from there. We're not going to give up and quit on this."

John Scott, an attorney for Culpepper, said it was largely a victory for his client.

"We're pleased from the standpoint of where we were following the jury verdict in Tuscaloosa County," Scott said. "From that standpoint, I think the Supreme Court did exactly what we wanted it to."

He said the ruling excludes from the new trial Culpepper's statement that Cottrell had abandoned his family
in Tallahassee, Fla., after
leaving Florida State for Alabama.

However, the Supreme Court ruling allows Culpepper to be tried for comments that Cottrell had stolen money from the Shaun Alexander Foundation and videotapes from the athletic department.

The court, in a 118-page order, sided with Culpepper's argument that he would have presented his case differently had the judge not changed his ruling at trial's end to make Cottrell a private figure, making it easier for Cottrell to show he was defamed by Culpepper's statements.

The court did not rule on Cottrell's claims that an indemnity agreement between Culpepper and the NCAA applies to the damages against the recruiting analyst, concurring with Wilson that the issue was "moot" since a new trial was ordered.

Cottrell and Williams sued Culpepper and the NCAA claiming they were unable to find comparable employment following the NCAA's investigation of Alabama, which was placed on probation and received other sanctions for rules violations.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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