Attorneys for MSU players Lewis and Jones respond to lawsuit

MSU's Leo Lewis
Staff Writer

Attorneys for Mississippi State players Leo Lewis and Kobe Jones have both filed responses in Lafayette County to the lawsuit brought against both players by Oxford-based business Rebel Rags.
Rebel Rags attorney Charles Merkel confirmed to the Starkville Daily News on Wednesday that he has received the responses issued from Lewis’ and Jones’ respective attorneys.
Last month, Rebel Rags brought a lawsuit against Lewis, Jones and Lindsey Miller, who is the estranged stepfather of former Ole Miss player Laremy Tunsil. Case documents also list 15 John Does among the defendants. The case accused Lewis and Jones of defamation, commercial disparagement and civil conspiracy. Rebel Rags claims Lewis and Jones provided false statements to the NCAA about receiving free merchandise when the two players were recruits. Lewis and Jones were each supposedly interviewed by the NCAA during the investigation into Ole Miss.
Merkel said Lewis’ and Jones’ responses featured motions to be severed from the other defendants, motions to transfer venue and motions to dismiss.
John Wheeler, the lawyer for Lewis, told the SDN that he argues in his response that Rebel Rags’ suit is “fatally flawed” as the retail outlet is the only party in the case that has published any potentially damaging comments.
“On the merits, it is not permissible for an individual or entity to attempt to recover damages in civil court for defamation when the only publication of the alleged defamatory comment was made by the plaintiff that is the entity that seeks damages,” Wheeler said. “It’s also important to always remember that truth is an absolute defense to a claim of defamation. It always has been and always will be. I think it is really important to remember, from Leo Lewis’ standpoint, that any participation he had, if any, in an NCAA investigative process, because he is a scholar athlete at a participating institution, would be by NCAA rules, confidential. It would also be compulsory. He has no choice. He has to participate in those interviews. So whatever he did was compulsory. It was confidential. He hasn’t mentioned anything to anyone outside of that investigative process. For Rebel Rags to claim they’ve been defamed by Leo Lewis, when the only publication that has ever been made about this issue was made by Rebel Rags, I find disingenuous.
“Everything else in the public domain, whether it be from the NCAA or from the University of Mississippi was done with redactions and references to John Does. There was no specificity as to the student-athletes involved, or the boosters.”
Wheeler also firmly believes the suit against Lewis should be in Oktibbeha County instead of Lafayette County.
“In the state of Mississippi, when you file a suit or court action against someone, such as defamation, you must file suit in one of two counties – either where the defendant resides or where the facts that give rise to the cause of action occurred,” Wheeler said. “As that relates to Leo Lewis, he lives in Starkville. If we assume he participated in an interview with NCAA investigators, that happened in Starkville, Mississippi. Those two criteria would mandate that the lawsuit against him be in Oktibbeha County. He’s been tried to be hooked into Lafayette County by being hooked up somehow with Lindsey Miller. That’s a misjoinder of those claims. Leo Lewis doesn’t know Mr. Miller.”
Jones' lawyer, Chris Shapley, could not be reached for comment.
Mississippi State head football coach Dan Mullen told multiple media outlets on Tuesday that Lewis and Jones will both “absolutely” be available for every game this coming season, barring injury.