May 02, 2013
City News Service
A judge has given a series of legal victories to Los Angeles Lakers forward Devin Ebanks, tossing defamation claims filed by a woman who alleges he sexually assaulted her and denying her bid to pursue her case without revealing her true name. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Samantha Jessner said Ebanks' lawyers demonstrated that their clients' remarks on Twitter and verbally to others after the alleged incident were protected by his First Amendment rights and therefore issues of public interest.
``The rape allegations at issue in this case were reported by various media outlets ... which reach a national audience,'' Jessner wrote in her seven- page ruling. ``Based on the fact that (Ebanks) is a professional athlete, he is associated with the Los Angeles Lakers brand ... and the subject was covered in national media outlets, the court finds that the public issue requirement has been satisfied.''
Jessner drew an analogy to news generated when Kobe Bryant was also accused or rape. Those allegations were dropped by prosecutors in September 2004.
``One cannot ignore the impact of a Lakers player accused of rape, no matter whether he is a widely known Lakers player or not, in light of the notoriety received when the most well-known Lakers player, Kobe Bryant, was previously accused of rape,'' Jessner wrote. ``Hence, the Lakers' history vis-a- vis rape allegations is germane to the analysis.''
Jessner also awarded Ebanks $18,700 to compensate him for attorneys' fees spent in fighting the defamation claims. The woman sued Ebanks Dec. 6, alleging assault and battery, sexual assault, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Jessner's rulings do not affect the plaintiff's ability to move forward with her other claims against Ebanks. Until now, she has identified herself in her court papers as ``Jane Doe.''
Ebanks has denied the allegations, and the District Attorney's Office found insufficient evidence to prosecute him. According to the lawsuit, the alleged assault took place on Sept. 13, 2011, after the two met at The Colony nightclub in Hollywood. She claims she agreed to go to the Laker player's Marina del Rey apartment on the condition they not have sex. The two began kissing, but after Ebanks began taking off her shorts and underwear, the woman objected and told him to stop, according to her court papers, which allege he then grabbed a condom and became sexually aggressive.
``What's the big deal, it's just sex ... I'm on the Lakers,'' her suit alleges Ebanks told her.
An angry Ebanks later threw her keys, purse and shoes outside and pushed her out of his apartment, according to her court papers. The woman alleged Ebanks subsequently published false information about her on his Twitter account as well as to teammates and an acquaintance suggesting she had made up the rape allegations against him. She maintained in her court papers that Ebanks did not disavow allegedly false statements about her that were published in a celebrity website and therefore adopted them as his own.
Jessner said Ebanks' denial of the rape allegations ``does not somehow become an affirmative statement that plaintiff falsely accused (Ebanks) of rape or (that she) falsely reported the rape to police.''
In the other motion asking that her name by kept confidential, Ebanks' lawyers argued that the woman did not have sufficient legal grounds for such protection and that permitting the aspiring lawyer to do so would compromise their client's ability to defend himself. Jessner, while sympathetic to the plaintiff, said that ``generalized fears of ridicule, embarrassment or scrutiny'' were not enough to allow the woman to proceed with a pseudonym.
``The court recognizes the difficulty that this situation presents for plaintiff,'' Jessner wrote. ``Unfortunately, the once incident described is attenuated in time and there is simply no persuasive evidence that her career in the law will suffer as a result of the disclosure of her name.''
In a sworn declaration submitted in support of her position, the plaintiff said she was ``depressed and vulnerable'' since the alleged assault and that she has a hard time not thinking about it.
``I fear that I will fall apart if the public gets a hold of my true name and I get verbally, physically and emotionally attacked,'' she stated in her declaration, adding that comments on the Internet in reaction to her suit have been ``vitriolic and threatening. Already I am made to be an evil woman.''
The woman maintains that through anonymity, she has been able to ``shield myself somewhat because I am not known as the person that has accused (Ebanks), a Laker NBA player, of rape, whose criminal complaint was not upheld by law enforcement, and now the woman bringing the lawsuit.''
The plaintiff says the ``public interest is served if people like me, facing a relatively more powerful, rich and famous adversary, can bring litigation without fear of public disdain, intrusion of privacy and physical violence, among others.''
But Ebanks' lawyers argued in their court papers that the law does not permit people to proceed with civil cases under assumed names just to avoid ``scrutiny in the media'' which ``could cause embarrassment'' to litigants.
``Plaintiff, a recent law school graduate, is merely speculating that she may have difficulty finding employment in her new legal profession if her identify is revealed,'' Ebanks' lawyers stated in their court papers.
Prosecutors in December 2011 cited a lack of corroborating evidence for their decision not to prosecute Ebanks. The Lakers chose the 23-year-old Ebanks as the 43rd overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft.