Radio hosts seek dismissal of lawsuit over basketball scandal leak
Attorneys claim any alleged injuries to Scott Jennings and his public relations firm were caused by Jennings' own communication with Matt Jones the day the ban was announced
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Comments two radio hosts made about a public relations executive accused of leaking information about the University of Louisville's basketball scandal are protected under free-speech laws, their attorneys say in court documents.
In March, Scott Jennings and his Louisville public relations firm, RunSwitch LLC, sued radio hosts John Ramsey and Mike Rutherford, claiming they falsely identified Jennings as the person who leaked news of U of L's postseason ban on Feb. 5 to Matt Jones, who runs the Kentucky Sports Radio website for University of Kentucky fans.
But in a response to the lawsuit filed last month, the hosts of "Ramsey & Rutherford in the Afternoon" on 93.9 FM ask a judge to dismiss the suit, arguing their statements are opinions protected by the First Amendment and concern a, "matter of legitimate and widespread public interest and discussion in this community."
In addition, the attorneys claim any injuries to Jennings were caused by, "substantial pre-broadcast public discussions" on social media and Jennings’ own alleged communication with Jones the day the ban was announced.
Attorneys said shortly before U of L held a press conference announcing the ban, Kentucky Sports Radio reported information "that could only have been attained from someone" in a meeting with university officials and RunSwitch, which has a contract to provide public relations advice to the U of L Foundation.
The Feb. 16 radio discussion about Jennings was prompted by a tweet from someone in the community soliciting opinions regarding "the story about the PR firm leaking info to Bangs (Jones)," according to the response from Ramsey and Rutherford's attorneys.
Rutherford said on air that Jennings is a noted Kentucky fan, that "a lot of people" have seen he follows UK people on Twitter and that he tweeted at Jones on the day of the ban, according to the response.
The tweet, according to a transcript of the show provided in the response, said "cheers" or "something that he has since deleted," Rutherford said. "He's deleted a bunch of tweets so it sounds like …"
"Not too bright," Ramsey responded, according to the transcript.
Ramsey said Jones had information about the time of the press conference and details of the announcement.
Rutherford later added that RunSwitch "deserved to lose business based on this. I do hope that is the case. That is not how you do PR. You should not have a job."
And both hosts called the company "RunSnitch" at one point, according to court records.
The request to dismiss the lawsuit also claims that Jennings and RunSwitch are public figures and there is no clear proof of "actual malice" in the broadcast statements.
The lawsuit claims the allegation against Jennings was false and that RunSwitch had nothing to do with any leak. It also named Union Broadcasting as a defendant.
In addition, Jones has said on the air that he didn't know Jennings and that neither he nor RunSwitch provided him any information.
"None of you have come close to knowing who it is," Jones said, according to the lawsuit. "These people have picked out some poor dude who I don't even know and they are, they have all blamed him...I haven't even met the guy. I have no idea who he is. And people are just being awful to him. It is a complete -- you want to see a witch hunt mentality? These Louisville fans are literally harassing a man I don't even know because they have assumed that he was the person...I'm just telling you -- you can believe me or not, but it ain't him."
The lawsuit also alleges that Ramsey and Rutherford continued to spread the allegation against Jennings even after RunSwitch told them it was not true.
For example, the suit states that on Feb. 17, Ramsey responded to Jones' denial by tweeting out the statement, "he [Jennings] and his firm ARE the leak," and published that statement daily on his Twitter page through March 21.
And the suit alleges that the hosts made the "false statements" in podcasts which were posted on ESPNLouisville.com and Cardchronicle.com, a website for Louisville fans run by Rutherford.
As a result, the plaintiffs accuse the various defendants of defamation, negligent supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and seek damages for that alleged wrongdoing.
Copyright 2016 by WDRB News. All rights reserved.