Kid’s Baseball Coach Strikes Out in Defamation Suit

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Kid’s Baseball Coach Strikes Out in Defamation Suit

March 26, 2015

imagesIt’s the bottom of the 9th, two outs, and a runner on 2nd.  The home team is down by one.    The batter steps up, swings and misses.  Count is full.   The pitcher eyes the batter, and he lets it rip… A hit, deep in the hole. The shortstop snags the ball, and throws to 3rd.   It’s a high tag. Ouch, that had to hurt!  He’s Safe!  No he’s out!  No… well.  The third base coach is yelling; he’s a big guy, towering over the ump – It’s getting intense.  This coach is used to getting his way.    “A little over the top there, coach!”  What a spectacle. Nope, he’s still out.  The coach is irate.  A fan jumps in on the action and gives it to the ump! 

Well, that was interesting, even entertaining…if it was a Major League game.

However, when it’s 7 year old kids’ baseball at your local little league park, with teenage umps and volunteer coaches, its more embarrassing than entertaining.   So, a complaint is filed against the over-the-top coach for his bad example in front of the kids and the teenage umps. Now, the league’s volunteers “get” to deal with the situation. What a joy for them.

 I’ve been on the Boards of youth baseball and softball leagues.   A board member is a “volunteer” position. “Volunteers” (which these days seem to be headed toward the endangered species list) usually agree to these positions of responsibility for the sole purpose of helping out the community.   Dealing with complaints like this one can be one the worst part of a volunteer’s duties (well that, and scoring 6 double elimination tournament games in 100 degree temperature).

 But this is the reality of youth sports in 2015 – the best equipment; private instruction; and skills drilled 24/7. A place where adults sometimes forget what sports are about – that it’s just a game and the game has far more to teach our youth than physical skills.  Acting like Billy Martin in front of two 7 year old boys’ baseball teams is not a good lesson in sportsmanship.   Why would any adult teach children that it’s appropriate to lose control, yell, scream and intimidate?  Unfortunately, this scenario is played out across our great nation thousands of times a year.

 It’s a good thing unpleasant situations like this stay on the field and don’t get raised to the level of lawsuits. Or do they?  In  a recent case I handled, an assistant coach, who was very “successful” and had access to seemingly unlimited resources, decided to sue not only the President of the local league, but also his own head coach who  transmitted a complaint about his behavior.  He claimed they “ruined” his reputation in the community by complaining about his on field behavior.   He demanded justice, in the form of $$.   Within days of the incident he had hired his attorney and began to demand “pre-suit depositions” to “investigate”.

 This is when the case came to my attention.    “How silly,” I thought and I told the other side so.  This type of incident should NOT be handled by the courts.  Please don’t misuse the judicial system. The facts are shameful enough. Do you really want to drag 7 year old kids in as witnesses?

 My requests were ignored, and suit was filed.   This coach would NOT let it go.  We immediately contested the case in the trial court using a little known statute that protects free speech in Texas. In summary “Judge, it’s a 7 year old kids’ baseball game.  People have a right, and a duty to report to the league behavior that they feel is inappropriate.   It is about the kids. This case is just wrong and should be thrown out!”   The Judge, off the record, pulled us aside and advised something to the effect that the coach might want to reconsider his lawsuit.  Consultation was had.  The Courtroom “murmurs” ensued.    No, the coach wanted to proceed.   The Judge denied our initial motion to dismiss the case.   It was a relatively new motion in Texas, and there was not much precedent on this new procedure.

 Swift justice was denied.   Normally, to appeal a case, you have to wait for a “Final Judgment” and this was just preliminary.  A final judgment could take years.  Would we really have to go through depositions and other discovery to get a case like this thrown out?  We would need to find a way to appeal.  I knew it was time to look to a true legal “appellate artisan”.  Someone who knows the Texas appellate system like the back of his hand. Enter my partner Alex Beard, who’s handled over 100 appeals. He would know where to take this and what to do with it to find some justice.

 Now, justice moves slowly, but I have found that it does move.   Just last week, over a year and a half later, the Ft. Worth Court of Appeals ordered not only that the case be dismissed, but that it be sent back to the  trial court to determine the appropriate amount of attorney’s fees and sanctions to be paid by the Plaintiff.   This is a rare finding indeed.   For now, justice has been served – served like a full-count, bases loaded home run over left field.

 Despite the seemingly silly facts of this case, the application of the Court’s opinion could actually be far reaching.   For those details, and the legal reasoning behind the dismissal, I defer to Mr. Beard who will explain in his next entry how he slowed the 95 mph curve ball into a  harmless meat ball, with little spin, so the Court of Appeals could knock it out of the park.

  If you have an interest in the very detailed opinion, it can be found here:

http://www.search.txcourts.gov/SearchMedia.aspx?MediaVersionID=8df42abb-f679-4131-9d89-09dc6d15a876&coa=coa02&DT=Opinion&MediaID=761f7792-bf3c-4816-bb76-f1043263ef22

One Comment so far:

  1. […] his reputation” stemming from events at a 7 year old’s baseball game (see prior entries here and here).     After appeal, and reversal, the Trial Court just ordered the Plaintiff to pay the […]

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