Judge: Zion Williamson must answer questions about improper benefits

Duke

FILE – In this Feb. 13, 2020, file photo, New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson grabs a rebound during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in New Orleans. The marketing agent who has sued NBA rookie Williamson wants the former Duke star to answer questions about whether he received improper benefits before playing his lone season with the Blue Devils. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton, File)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Zion Williamson could be one step closer to having to answer questions under oath about whether he received improper benefits before or during his only season at Duke.

A Florida judge on Tuesday denied Williamson’s request that would have prevented his former marketing agent from asking the 2019 national player of the year if he or his family members demanded or received gifts, money or benefits to attend Duke.

It is likely that Williamson’s attorneys will appeal, and that would be filed with Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal.

Williamson’s lawyers sought a stay of the discovery process in the lawsuit filed by Gina Ford and Prime Sports Marketing, who are suing the New Orleans Pelicans rookie for breach of contract.

Larry Strauss, one of the attorneys representing Ford and Prime Sports, told CBS 17 News that the next step is to determine whether the court will allow them to depose Williamson remotely by videoconference.

“We do not believe the Court would deny the ability to depose a witness remotely,” Strauss said in a statement. “As such, there’s seemingly no truly viable basis to object to it — unless one is trying to prevent a witness from being deposed, of course. Ultimately, the issue will be for the judge to decide, and we look forward to that decision.”

Attorney Jeffrey Klein, who represents Williamson, did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

Daniel Wallach, an attorney and sports law analyst, told CBS 17 News that he expects the appeals court to issue a stay with discovery responses due in two weeks.

“From the court’s vantage point … (Judge David Miller) may have perceived a no-harm, no-foul situation, believing this discovery would have to take place somewhere and he didn’t see a compelling reason” to block it, Wallach said.

Lawyers for Ford and Prime Sports last month filed a first request for admissions, asking Williamson to answer those questions. The document does not contain any evidence.

One of those lawyers also hinted in an interview with CBS 17 News that he could have Hall of Fame Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski sit for a deposition.

Williamson’s lawyers countered in a document filed two weeks ago, calling them “invasive and irrelevant requests” and a “fishing expedition” that were “plainly designed to generate publicity.”

They added that the requests “are designed to harass and are not calculated to lead to discovery of relevant evidence” and that any benefit “is vastly outweighed by the clear, intended harm to Williamson.”

Officials at Duke have declined comment because the school is not a party to either lawsuit.

Williamson’s college eligibility could be pertinent because the North Carolina Uniform Athlete Agents Act defines a student-athlete as someone who is eligible to engage in an intercollegiate sport. The lawyers for Ford and Prime Sports could argue that if Williamson is determined to have been ineligible, the act would not be applicable to him.

Williamson has been tied up in dueling lawsuits with Ford and her company for the past year, ever since shortly after he left Duke early for the NBA.

Williamson signed a marketing deal with Prime Sports last April, five days after announcing his decision to enter the NBA draft.

He then signed with Creative Artists Agency last May and filed a lawsuit the following month in U.S. District Court in Greensboro seeking to terminate that contract and accusing the agency of violating the state’s sports agent law, saying Ford is not registered as an agent in the state as required by law.

Later that month, Ford and Prime Sports sued Williamson in a Florida court for $100 million in punitive damages, saying the former college player of the year breached his contract.

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