Judge Nixes $5M Verdict Against NCAA in Bama Boster Suit

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - A judge threw out the $5 million verdict an Alabama football fan won in his lawsuit accusing the NCAA of slander, ruling in a decision made public Wednesday that jurors were wrongly swayed by prejudice against the sanctioning organization.

Circuit Judge William Gordon granted the NCAA's request for a new trial in a lawsuit filed by timber dealer Ray Keller of Stevenson, but he did not set a date.

Gordon said in a 13-page opinion that the multimillion-dollar verdict wasn't supported by evidence, and he ruled the award "is the result of passion or prejudice." He also said sided with several other arguments by the NCAA, including a claim that jurors at the trial in Scottsboro heard improper instructions before siding with Keller.

An attorney for Keller, Archie Lamb, said he would either ask Gordon to reconsider the decision or appeal directly to the Alabama Supreme Court.

"We just have to decide which is the better course of action," said Lamb.

The NCAA did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Keller, a fan with whom the university severed ties because of a lengthy NCAA investigation, argued that the NCAA slandered and libeled him when it announced penalties against Alabama in 2002 by referring to him and others as "rogue boosters," "parasites" and "pariahs."

The NCAA said it never publicly identified Keller in its report or during a news conference announcing the findings. It portrayed him as a rabid fan who lost all perspective on the game, giving "$100 handshakes" to a recruit and having improper contacts with other Tide recruits.

The NCAA investigation into Alabama recruiting practices were the subject of countless newspaper articles, radio call-in shows and Internet postings for several years, and Keller's name was widely used in media accounts. A Jackson County jury ruled in Keller's favor in November after hearing three weeks of testimony in Scottsboro.

Jurors awarded him $3 million in punitive damages, $1 million for mental anguish, $500,000 for economic loss and $500,000 for damage to reputation. He had sought $33.5 million.

The trial included testimony from former Crimson Tide coach Gene Stallings, who is still wildly popular for leading Alabama to its last national championship. In testimony that helped Keller, Stallings denied knowing him and said Keller held no sway with the football program.

The jury deliberated less than six hours over two days to reach the verdict.

Gordon is a retired judge from Montgomery who presided over the end of the trial afte the original judge suffered a heart attack outside of court.

Another lawsuit filed over the investigation resulted in a $30 million verdict in Tuscaloosa County against a former recruiting analyst who provided information to the NCAA, but that judgment was overturned on appeal.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)