A Year After Incident, Oakley Still Wants Dolan, MSG Held ‘Accountable’

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Benjamin Zipursky was quoted in an ESPN article about former NBA star Charles Oakley’s defamation claim against James Dolan, owner of the New York Knicks and executive chairman of the Madison Square Garden Company.

New York Knicks great Charles Oakley stood in handcuffs in the bowels of Madison Square Garden, surrounded by more than a dozen security guards and police officers. He’d been dragged out of his seat by arena security minutes earlier.

And he was furious.

“Dolan did this! Dolan did this!” Oakley yelled in anguish, referencing Knicks owner James Dolan.

“As a public figure, in any defamation action, he not only is going to have to prove that the statements made about [him]were false, he’s also going to have to prove that when they were spoken, they were spoken with knowledge that they were false. It’s difficult,” said Benjamin Zipursky, a professor at Fordham University School of Law and an expert in tort and defamation law.

Zipursky acknowledged the possibility of the suit being dismissed before a jury trial, but notes that there are some avenues worth pursuing.

“The law has developed in such a way that sometimes a public figure like Oakley could prevail by proving that they were spoken with recklessness as to whether they were true or false,” Zipursky said. “If it’s determined that Dolan and MSG leapt to that inference [that Oakley may have a drinking problem]and say it publicly, I think there’s a decent argument that that is spoken with reckless indifference as to whether he is an alcoholic.”

Zipursky also notes that because Oakley’s suit includes “defamation per se,” the ex-Knicks great may not need to show that the claims made by MSG and Dolan caused him economic harm. That may turn out to be an important factor, but Wigdor said that his legal team plans to show that Oakley indeed suffered economic harm in its amended complaint.

Zipursky believes the battery, assault and false imprisonment claims will be difficult to prove because the police and public prosecutor sought criminal charges against Oakley in the aftermath of the incident. (Those charges were dismissed last week.)

“I don’t think it’s likely that the security at MSG is going to be found to have had no reasonable basis for what they did,” he says.

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