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Legal status at issue for booster

Friday, July 21, 2006


News staff writer

SCOTTSBORO - Attorneys for former Alabama booster Ray Keller and the NCAA wrangled over Keller's status as a public figure, a definition that will be the linchpin in a defamation lawsuit scheduled for a September trial.

Keller, a Stevenson timber man, was labeled a rogue Crimson Tide booster when the NCAA announced recruiting violations by Alabama in 2002. He is suing the NCAA and recruiting analyst Tom Culpepper for defamation in Jackson County Circuit Court.

Appearing before Judge Wallace Haralson in a summary judgment hearing Thursday, NCAA attorney John Morrow argued Keller is a limited purpose public figure, which would create a harder standard for Keller to meet to win his case.

Limited purpose public figure is a term in defamation law that refers to someone who voluntarily becomes involved in a controversy and attempts to get his views across. One can also be considered an involuntary limited purpose public figure, such as someone charged with a crime.

Morrow argued that Keller met key tests in determining a limited public figure. For instance, Morrow said, Keller played a key role in a pre-existing controversy - the Alabama recruiting scandal.

Alabama "lost scholarships, postseason play and its reputation was tarnished," Morrow said, in part because of Keller's involvement with a local prospect and former Crimson Tide players. "Mr. Keller was a subject of investigation."

Morrow argued that Keller's name also was raised by Alabama officials, citing an assistant coach who was concerned when former cornerback Fernando Bryant showed up on campus with a new Mercedes.

The assistant, said Morrow, "called up Ray and asked if he knew anything about (the automobile)."

Don Word, Keller's attorney, countered that to be considered a limited public figure the former booster would have had to "thrust himself into the controversy.

"Ray Keller did everything he could to avoid this," Word said. "His sole involvement was his interview with the NCAA, which the University of Alabama asked him to do."


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