The people in courtroom 905 at the U.S. Courthouse in lower Manhattan were told to rise at about 2:35 Friday afternoon. U.S. District Judge Richard J. Sullivan entered and took his seat, and the next step in Charles Oakley’s civil suit against James Dolan and Madison Square Garden was underway.
Oakley and Dolan weren’t there. But lawyers for the former Knicks forward and the Knicks owner were. It marked the first appearance before the judge in the case. This was a pre-motion conference.
The motion will be from the defendants to dismiss Oakley’s suit for monetary compensation over 10 causes of action, among them defamation, libel, slander, assault, battery, false imprisonment and denial of public accommodation.
It stemmed from an attempt to eject Oakley at the Garden last Feb. 8. He had an altercation with security personnel and was arrested on misdemeanor assault, harassment and trespassing charges. It also stemmed largely from Dolan’s subsequent comments on ESPN radio. He said that Oakley “has a problem with anger.” Dolan also called him “physically and verbally abusive” and claimed Oakley “may have a problem with alcohol.”
“We’re just looking forward to making the motion,” Dolan/Garden attorney Randy Mastro said.
Oakley’s attorney, Douglas Wigdor, said the sides will “brief the motion to dismiss,” submitting their arguments.
“The judge will make a ruling on that,” Wigdor said. “Whatever causes of action remain, then we proceed forward with the litigation.”
Sullivan told Wigdor the defamation claim would be “uphill.”
Wigdor was undeterred afterward, saying, “A lot of judges say things like that and then reverse course,” and that he would explain to Sullivan why he should.
Regarding Oakley’s assault and battery claims, Mastro asked Sullivan to review video of the incident, saying it “will be shocking.”
The criminal case against Oakley was resolved via a plea deal. Asked if he sees the civil case being settled before trial, Wigdor said, “I don’t know. Always open to talk.”
But Wigdor also said, “I know that Mr. Oakley is looking forward to having his day in court . . . because he was treated like a common criminal. He was disrespected.”