Legal Experts Say Ordman Alley's Claims Would Test Defamation, Due Process Law

By Harrison, Judy | Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME), August 28, 2014 | Go to article overview

Legal Experts Say Ordman Alley's Claims Would Test Defamation, Due Process Law


Harrison, Judy, Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME)


BANGOR, Maine -- Famed former Jonesport-Beals basketball coach Ordman Alley has invoked defamation and denial of due process in defending himself against allegations of sexual abuse that led to his removal from two Maine athletic halls of fame.

But legal experts interviewed by the Bangor Daily News said both claims could be difficult to prove to a judge or jury by a preponderance of evidence -- the legal standard that must be met in civil cases -- should he pursue legal action against his accusers and the halls of fame.

Alley, 72, was removed from the halls of fame earlier this year after two women alleged to the organizations that Alley sexually abused them while they were students and he was a teacher at the Cove School in Jonesport in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Alley's attorney, Brett Baber of Bangor, on Monday issued a press release, signed by Alley, denying the women's allegations.

The statement also said Alley is "exploring my own options of bringing legal action against those who have slandered me. I look forward to the opportunity to address these false allegations in a court of law where all of the participants will be assured of due process."

Baber said Wednesday said that the filing of a lawsuit related to the allegations "was not imminent."

The attorney representing the two alleged victims said Thursday that Alley's public threat of a lawsuit "might not be wise."

"If he wants to open the courthouse doors, we welcome that," Rebecca Irving of Machias said. "He's been aware of these accusations for years."

The Bangor Daily News is not naming her clients because they might be victims of sexual assault.

In his statement, Alley raised two separate legal issues related to the allegations and his removal from the halls of fame: denial of due process by the halls and defamation as a result of slander.

Defamation, which includes both slander and libel, is a false statement that causes harm, according to E. James Burke, clinical professor of law at the University of Maine Law School in Portland. Slander involves a spoken statement. Libel involves a published written statement.

Legally, said Burke, the burden of proving a statement is false is on the plaintiff -- Alley if he sues -- but realistically, a judge or jurors probably would base a verdict on whose testimony they believed.

"The harm must be proven through testimony and evidence," Burke said. "There are two parts to most cases, liability and damages. A verdict for a plaintiff may reinstate his or her reputation, but damages might be minimal."

Jurors could find a plaintiff had been defamed but award just $1 in damages, the professor said. Plus, the plaintiff is taking a big risk.

"If you go to court and you win, that's great," said Burke. "If you lose, it confirms you did it."

The burden of proof on Alley also would increase if the defense could prove that he is a public figure, said Bernard Kubetz, a Bangor lawyer experienced in trying defamation cases. (Disclosure: Kubetz has defended the BDN and other media outlets in such cases.)

It would be up to a judge to determine if Alley was a public figure because of how well-known he is in his local community or in the statewide basketball community, Kubetz said. …

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