Lawyers for former Yankees star Roger Clemens argued Wednesday that he should not have to face a defamation suit in Brooklyn federal court from his former trainer because the superstar pitcher no longer has ties to New York, and because public figures are entitled to issue denials when they are accused of wrongdoing.
Brian McNamee, the trainer, of Breezy Point, has said he injected the burly seven-time Cy Young Award winner with steroids and human growth hormone from 1998 to 2001. He is suing Clemens, 48, for denying the claims and for calling McNamee a liar in public statements.
"They're contending if I'm accused of something, my denying that I did it is defamatory," Clemens' flamboyant Texas lawyer, Rusty Hardin, told U.S. District Judge Sterling Johnson. " . . . There has got to be an ability for a public figure to respond to accusations that are disastrous to his reputation without being subjected to a lawsuit."
"Mr. Clemens has a right to defend himself, but not when he's lying and he knows he's lying," countered McNamee's lawyer, Richard Emery.
The faceoff was the latest round in a long-running legal and public relations feud between Clemens and McNamee. It was sparked by a 2007 report on steroid use by former Sen. George Mitchell, an investigator for Major League Baseball, recounting McNamee's claims that he doped Clemens more than a dozen times.
In addition to public denials, Clemens also denied McNamee's charges in a 2008 appearance before Congress. Last month, he was indicted on a charge of perjury in Washington for those statements. Johnson, who did not rule Wednesday, said that even if he allows the civil suit to go forward he is likely to postpone it until the criminal case is over.
McNamee's defamation suit alleges that Clemens, in attempting to falsely rebut his charges, said the trainer was "constantly lying," "made up a bunch of evidence," was "unstable" and was "troubled."
Clemens still denies McNamee's accusations, and truth is one of his defenses to the defamation claim. But Hardin also told Johnson that some of the statements were either opinions, which are protected, or merely hyperbolic rhetoric.
"This is not a case of opinion and hyperbole," Emery responded. "This is a case of a very well-planned, rigorous, unrelenting public relations campaign . . . to destroy Brian McNamee's credibility."
In addition to attacking the claim, Clemens - a Yankee for six seasons - also argues that a New York court lacked jurisdiction to hear it. His lawyers said that by the time McNamee sued in 2008, Clemens was receiving only deferred compensation from the club - which is, legally, an Ohio partnership with a Tampa, Fla., headquarters.
But Emery said the alleged doping occurred while Clemens was a Yankee, adding, "He was paid by New York fans for New York work."
Clemens and McNamee were not present in court for the arguments.