Former University of Southern California assistant football coach Todd McNair was granted a new trial in his defamation lawsuit against the NCAA in what’s seen as a rebuke of how the organization investigated the Reggie Bush scandal.
McNair filed a motion seeking a new trial, which was granted by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Frederick Shaller in a ruling filed on Wednesday, according to the Los Angeles Times.
McNair’s case against the NCAA stems from how he was treated in the wake of the Reggie Bush scandal. In 2010, the NCAA Committee on Infractions found that McNair had been involved in unethical conduct regarding Bush, and hit McNair with a one-year “show-cause” penalty. McNair did not have his contract at USC renewed, and a year later McNair filed suit against the NCAA, claiming his punishment and the stigma he had been hit with made finding another coaching position all but impossible.
Shaller’s ruling suggests that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support a jury’s May finding that the NCAA did not defame McNair. The NCAA’s defense centered on a report compiled by the Committee on Infractions that claimed that a phone call between McNair and Lloyd Lake, an individual who had been involved in payoffs to Bush. However, Lake, who did not testify at trial, never told NCAA investigators who initiated the call or that the parties discussed any illicit agreement. The judge said the NCAA’s report “gave evidentiary weight to statements that were not made and were the impetus for sanctions imposed against McNair.”
In addition to the problems the judge cited with the NCAA’s evidence, Shaller indicated that the jury was compromised by a particular juror whose firm had done work on the case for the NCAA years ago. Shaller wrote that the juror’s previous work should have disqualified him from sitting on the jury.
“Permitting Juror No. 2 to remain on the jury and participate in deliberations and the verdict resulted in a miscarriage of justice and in Plaintiff being deprived of a fair trial,” Shaller wrote. “Without Juror No. 2 it is likely a different outcome would have resulted.”
When McNair’s lawyers learned of the juror’s possible conflict of interest, they attempted to have him removed from the case. Shaller at the time denied that request, claiming that the juror wasn’t personally aware of his firm’s work on the case and that it wouldn’t bias the juror’s weighing of the evidence. Shaller later changed his mind.
“Bias is implied, and disqualification was required without proof of actual bias, since bias under these circumstances is inferred,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, the NCAA has said that it will appeal the motion. In a statement, the NCAA’s chief legal officer Donald Remy said “There is no basis to disregard the decision the citizens of Los Angeles County reached after careful deliberation. We will appeal this decision and continue to defend the ability of NCAA member schools to both create and enforce its rules.”