Monday, August 20, 2007

Kia Vaughn sues, Part I

Kia Vaughn of the Rutgers basketball team has filed a lawsuit against Don Imus and CBS citing slander in regards to Imus's comments following the Rutgers loss to Tennessee in the NCAA championship last spring.
Most do not consider the lawsuit to be viable. Sports Law Blog posted this immediately after knowledge of the lawsuit became public. Michael McCann does not see the charge of slander holding up in court but also predicts a settlement because of the further damage a lawsuit might do. (Remember, Imus is looking to land another job and CBS has put in his former slot another questionable character.) A follow-up post by Howard Wasserman on morality and the law notes that despite the lack of moral judgement on Imus's part, it is not a situation that can be remedied by the judicial system.
McCann did an interview with discussing the merits of the suit. He does an excellent job explaining what slander is, the standards Vaughn's representation will have to meet to prove slander, and the defense Imus might offer. He reiterates his belief that there will be a settlement and adds that the lawsuit may put broadcasters on notice and encourage them to develop standards for radio personalities.
In a sense, this seems to counter what Wasserman has said about the inability of the judicial system to remedy an individual's lack of morality. A court (judge and/or jury) may not find her claim viable but she has engaged the judicial system in an attempt to redress the harm that was brought to her.
I see similarities actually, to the Jennifer Harris versus Rene Portland/Penn State case. The closed settlement was disappointing, initially, to many of us. But upon further reflection it is possible to see that settlement was a way to make demands (like specific actions the institution would have to take) that would not have been possible had the case gone to court when it would have been only about remedying the situation Harris faced. Harris and her lawyers, after the settlement, said they were satisfied that something like this would not happen in the future to other players and that outcome was part of their goal all along.
McCann, though he has not likened the situation to Harris's, does seem to think that the lawsuit is an attempt to engender change. It is not, he says, about how much money Vaughn can get from Imus and CBS. Others are not seeing it the same way. In Part II I plan to look at the response to Vaughn's lawsuit.

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