SAN DIEGO – A San Diego County Superior Court judge on Friday denied a request by attorneys for former University of Southern California running back Reggie Bush for a gag order in a civil suit filed against him by one of the financiers of a failed sports marketing company.
Judge Joan Lewis also ordered that the trial in the case begin March 13, 2009. Lewis further ordered settlement talks in the case before Feb. 20, 2009 and compelled attorneys to finalize dates for depositions of all parties. At one point in the proceeding, Lewis ordered all the attorneys into her chambers.
New Era Sports & Entertainment financier Lloyd Lake has charged in the suit that he contributed to the approximately $300,000 in benefits Bush allegedly received from the would-be marketers while playing at USC. Lake is seeking approximately $300,000 in damages. Bush later chose to be represented by marketing agent Mike Ornstein.
Bush has already reached a settlement with Michael Michaels, the other New Era financier. Michael is believed to have received $300,000 in the settlement, which included a confidentiality clause.
Lewis' order opens the door for further scrutiny of charges that Bush received extra benefits. If the NCAA rules that Bush received the benefits, he could be ruled retroactively ineligible. Since some of the benefits date back to the 2004 season, the Trojans' national championship that season could be rescinded. USC could face further NCAA sanctions and Bush's 2005 Heisman Trophy could be in jeopardy.
"The main thing we wanted to accomplish today, we got accomplished: to nail them down for a deposition of Reggie Bush," Lake's attorney Brian Watkins said. "I knew if that thing started to go into the football season, they would give us excuse after excuse – duck and dodge."
David Cornwell, an ESPN legal analyst and one of Bush's attorneys, expressed similar sentiments regarding Lake's testimony.
"We're pleased with the court's ruling," Cornwell said. "Finally we have ironclad dates where Lake is going to have to testify under oath."
Lake's suit was filed last October, but little progress has been made since, leading to the hearing Friday. Lewis admonished both sides for the glacial pace of the case.
The latest request from Bush's attorneys was the motion for confidentiality. Lewis said she was "confused" by the motion, saying such motions are typically only applied to protect trade secret issues.
Bush's four attorneys, including Cornwell and Los Angeles-based attorney Patricia Glazer, argued in court Friday for the confidentiality motion. They do not believe that information from the depositions should be available to a third party, such as the NCAA or the media.
"I happen to believe court actions are brought for court actions," Glazer said. "If that's the reason they brought it, we're going to deal with that on the merits. We're not in favor of using one forum for the benefit of another forum, or one forum for the benefit of the press."
Glazer has replaced attorney Kevin Leichter, who is a member of the same firm and was originally representing Bush in the case.
Lewis' tone was sharp throughout the hearing.
"Don't start playing discovery games," Lewis said when the sides quibbled over deposition dates. She also advised the sides to stop bickering.
"I really think it needs to be ratcheted down in this case and you folks need to communicate," Lewis said.
The judge warned that she will impose financial sanctions if discovery and depositions do not proceed. Watkins said he expects to call 20 witnesses if the trial goes forward, and he said that USC head coach Pete Carroll and assistant coach Todd McNair would be among those subpoenaed as witnesses.
Lewis ordered that discovery be completed by May 23. Watkins said Lake would not ask for Fifth Amendment protection in discovery. Watkins said he believes that Bush's attorneys will eventually ask for a dismissal of the case after Lake's deposition, but no such motion has been filed.
Watkins said in court that the sides have tried to hold a private mediation hearing when earlier settlement talks failed.
Attorneys for Lake and Bush have battled for months about depositions. Lake walked out of his deposition in February when a private security guard accompanying Bush's attorneys brought a gun to the proceeding.
Bush's attorneys have not made Bush, his mother Denise Griffin or stepfather LaMar Griffin available for depositions. They also asked for protective orders so that none of them would be deposed.
A Yahoo! Sports investigation in April 2006 first reported Bush received the benefits. Other media outlets have followed up on the report.
Bush's attorneys had asked the court and Lake's attorneys for the gag order this week. Bush and Cornwell had previously charged Lake with extortion in the case. The FBI investigated Lake for extortion in 2006, but has never charged him. Lake is a convicted felon and documented gang member who has served time in prison.
Jason Cole and Charles Robinson are national NFL writers for Yahoo! Sports.