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Ex-Syracuse Coach Bernie Fine's Wife to Sue ESPN for Libel

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By Andrew Chow, Esq. on May 16, 2012 2:36 PM

The wife of former Syracuse basketball coach Bernie Fine is set to sue ESPN over an allegedly doctored audio recording that she says smeared her "as a monster."

Laurie Fine announced her intention to sue ESPN for libel at a press conference Wednesday, Syracuse's WSYR-TV reports. Her lawyers released the lawsuit to reporters, but they have not yet filed it in court.

Fine's husband Bernie was fired in November after two former ball boys publicly accused him of child sex abuse in interviews with ESPN. The channel also aired an audio recording of Laurie Fine that suggested she knew her husband had molested at least one of his accusers.

But ESPN manipulated the recording of ex-Syracuse coach Bernie Fine's wife, her lawyers assert. The full recording runs 48 minutes, but ESPN's selective editing "seriously misleads and misrepresents the conversation that occurred," Laurie Fine's lawyer said, according to WSYR.

You can watch clips from Laurie Fine's press conference here:

An ESPN spokesman denied the charge in a statement. "The suit is without merit and we stand by our reporting," the statement said.

In Laurie Fine's libel lawsuit, she will have to prove that ESPN made a false statement that was publicized to at least one other person, and that ESPN was negligent in broadcasting the statement.

ESPN's response suggests the network will defend itself by claiming the allegedly libelous statements about Laurie Fine were truthful. In fact, courts generally only require a statement to be "substantially true" for a defense of "truth" to apply in libel cases. That means ESPN may be able to successfully defend itself, even if a few facts it reported were false.

Syracuse's Bernie Fine was never charged with child sex abuse, because the statute of limitations had expired. But prosecutors have said the ball boys' molestation accusations were likely true.

In announcing her libel lawsuit against ESPN, Laurie Fine told reporters her life "had been destroyed" by the allegedly doctored recording. Her suit seeks unspecified punitive damages to "deter [ESPN] from repeating their unlawful conduct."

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