In another bizarre turn in the lawsuit brought against former USC star Reggie Bush, the deposition of New Era Sports co-founder Lloyd Lake came to an unexpected halt Tuesday after a man sitting in on the proceedings revealed he was carrying a handgun.
Lake was prepared to testify under oath about the $291,000 in alleged extra benefits his failed sports agency gave to Bush and his family. But that testimony was scuttled after Lake and his attorney, Brian Watkins, say they discovered Bush's attorneys had brought an armed observer to the proceedings. Watkins and Lake said Bush's attorneys – David Cornwell and Kevin Leichter – refused to reveal why the man was present. Lake's attorneys said they interpreted his presence as an attempt to intimidate their client.
"All Cornwell said was that this guy was working for the law firm of David Cornwell and that he has a CCW (carrying concealed weapon) permit," Watkins said. "The guy sat with his arms folded the whole time, staring at Lloyd. Then he opened up his jacket and you could see that he had a gun on him. I asked (Bush's attorneys) to identify him, and they refused to even tell me his name. Then after going back and forth about it, they told me his name, but wouldn't tell me who he was working for or why he was there. I wanted a business card or something that explained who this guy was."
Watkins said the man followed Lake in "an intimidating manner" almost immediately after Lake arrived for the deposition, which was set to take place at the San Diego law offices of Pillsbury, Winthrop, Shaw and Pittman. Watkins said that after following Lake, the man sat down in the area where the deposition was to take place. Watkins said the man didn't identify himself, and instead stared at Lake before eventually opening his jacket to reveal a handgun. At that point, Watkins said he asked that the man leave.
Watkins said he halted the proceedings when the armed man moved "only eight to 10 feet away" from where the deposition was set to take place. He said a court reporter and videographer were in the room when the incident took place.
"I'm stunned by their conduct," said Lake's other attorney, Paul Wong. "We take this matter very seriously. You shouldn't be able to bring a gun to a deposition and threaten people. We don't even allow police officers to bring their guns to their own depositions.
"If they were afraid for any reason or concerned about security, they should have raised that or notified the court in advance, and they didn't. We could have done the deposition in the courtroom if they were worried about security."
Attorney Brian Bieber, who has 14 years' experience in civil, criminal, state and federal court cases, said it was extremely odd for someone to come to a deposition with a gun.
"It is nearly unheard of," said Bieber, who has taken part in more than 700 depositions in South Florida. "Clearly, this was done as an intimidation factor. … If an attorney was aware of the presence of a firearm on the premises of the deposition and didn't let everyone in the room know about it, you could be looking at a serious bar violation.
Wong said he and Watkins would file a motion for an order of protection from the court in hopes of preventing "further intimidation" when the deposition is rescheduled.
Cornwell, who also serves as a legal analyst for ESPN, told ESPN.com that he was advised to take "precautions" in Lake's presence. According to the ESPN.com report, "Watkins told Cornwell that Lake was a gang member and that if the Bush camp did not pay off Lake, he [Watkins] could not control him. Cornwell also said that Lake made two threats against Bush in December 2007. After discussing the threats with law enforcement and private security professionals, Bush's legal team was told to take precautions when in Lake's presence."
Cornwell did not return calls from Yahoo! Sports. Leichter declined comment through his secretary.
Tuesday's deposition is the first of several that are expected to take place this month, including Bush's, which is slated for Feb. 25.
The depositions are expected to be key pieces of evidence in an ongoing NCAA investigation into whether Bush and his family received improper benefits while he was playing at Southern California. Lake contends that he and business partner Michael Michaels gave Bush and his family $291,000 in benefits as part of a plan to hatch a sports agency around the star. If Bush is found to have accepted the benefits, his Heisman Trophy could be in jeopardy. Should the NCAA declare him retroactively ineligible during the 2005 season, the Heisman Trust would be forced to determine whether to strip the award. The NCAA's investigation could also impact USC's 2004 and 2005 seasons, including the Trojans' 2004 national championship.
- Reggie Bush