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Syracuse ex-ball boys appeal slander suit ruling

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) -- Two former Syracuse University basketball ball boys have asked a judge to reinstate their slander lawsuit against the school and head coach Jim Boeheim over comments the Hall of Famer made following the firing of his longtime assistant amid a sex abuse scandal.

Attorneys for Bobby Davis and Mike Lang filed a 54-page brief with the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court in Rochester in March.

State Supreme Court Justice Brian DeJoseph threw out their lawsuit in May, ruling that comments made by Boeheim after assistant coach Bernie Fine was fired were not statements of fact but were opinions that are protected from defamation lawsuits.

Davis and Lang say Boeheim slandered them in November 2011 when he publicly called them liars only out for money when they accused Fine of molesting them as children. Their claims could not be investigated criminally because they did not fall within the statute of limitations.

Fine has denied the allegations and a federal investigation into a third man's claim did not find enough evidence to warrant criminal charges. Fine has served notice that he plans to sue ESPN for airing claims made by Davis and Lang.

After the allegations of sexual abuse surfaced, Boeheim vehemently supported Fine, a friend for more than 40 years and his assistant for 35-plus seasons. Boeheim told ESPN that Davis was telling "a bunch of a thousand lies" and called him an opportunist looking to cash in on the publicity surrounding the then-emerging Penn State sex-abuse scandal.

"The content, tone and purpose of Boeheim's statements would clearly signal to the reasonable reader that what was being said in the articles published in the days after the initial ESPN report were likely to be an opinion - a biased, passionate, and defensive point of view of a basketball coach - rather than objective fact," DeJoseph wrote in his 30-page decision.

The lawyer for Davis and Lang, Mariann Meier Wang, wrote in the brief filed March 13 that DeJoseph should have allowed the case to go to a jury.

"The lower court's opinion should be reversed," Wang wrote. "A reasonable person reading Boeheim's statements readily could conclude that he was asserting specific and damning facts, not merely blowing off steam and voicing an opinion about an old friend."

Lawyers for Boeheim and the university filed their response last week, arguing that Boeheim's comments were opinions and thus protected by free speech.

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