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Judge OKs Pressler’s slander suit

A North Carolina appeals court ruled Tuesday that former men’s lacrosse coach Mike Pressler can continue with a lawsuit against the University.

Pressler—who signed a settlement in 2007 with the University after he was fired following the false rape allegations in 2006—charges that John Burness, former Duke senior vice president for public affairs and government relations, made slanderous remarks about him after and in violation of the settlement, which included a clause precluding defamatory comments.

Duke had filed the appeal saying that as a former employee, Pressler’s allegations should be mediated through arbitration with the University rather than through a court case.

The Court of Appeals upheld the original decision Tuesday by Superior Court Judge Howard Manning in April 2008, stating that the settlement reached between Pressler and the University effectively voided all earlier agreements, meaning Pressler is no longer bound by previous contracts requiring arbitration.

“What this means is that Coach Pressler is going to get his day in court, which is what he wanted,” said Don Strickland, a lawyer for Pressler. “We think he has a right to a trial by jury and we’re pleased that the Court of Appeals agrees that he has the right for a jury to determine the outcome, instead of an arbitrator.”

Strickland said he could not comment on whether being able to file suit against the University will affect the volume of monetary settlement Pressler could be entitled to.

Michael Schoenfeld, current vice president for public affairs and government relations, said the University will carry on defending itself against the charges, though he declined to comment further on how the University will proceed and whether another appeal will be filed.

“Duke intends to defend this case whether in arbitration or in the courts,” Schoenfeld said.

The two statements Pressler takes issue with refer to John Danowski, Pressler’s replacement as men’s lacrosse coach. Burness described the difference between the two men as “night and day” in an April 9, 2007 Newsday article. The second statement appeared in a June 7, 2007 Associated Press article in which Burness said, “It was essential for the team to have a change of leadership in order to move forward.”

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