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NCAA asks for new judge in Todd McNair lawsuit

NCAA asks for new judge in Todd McNair lawsuit
Todd McNair, right, then USC's running backs coach, shares a laugh with quarterback Matt Leinart and then-quarterbacks coach Steve Sarkisian during a team practice in 2005. McNair sued the NCAA after it sanctioned him and USC in connection with the Reggie Bush case. (Kevork Djansezian / Associated Press)

The NCAA has renewed its effort to remove the Los Angeles County Superior Court judge who is overseeing former USC assistant football coach Todd McNair's defamation lawsuit against the organization, citing news stories and message-board postings about the case.

In the motion filed earlier this week, the NCAA said the "public perceives potential judicial bias" because Judge Frederick Shaller graduated from USC.

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"While it is unlikely the NCAA can ever receive a fair trial -- just miles from USC where students and alumni publish vitriolic, hateful messages about the NCAA with each case development -- the court should guard against any public perception of bias arising from a trial judge's ties to USC," the motion said.

Shaller rejected a similar request by the NCAA in March, noting the issues raised by the organization weren't "legal grounds for disqualification."

In this week's filing, the NCAA cited years-old news stories about the case in addition to anonymous postings on message boards and comments below stories.

"Strong hatred of the NCAA for sanctioning USC permeates social media posts," the motion said.

It added that "even mainstream media has vilified the NCAA," citing a 2012 column about the penalties in the New York Times by Joe Nocera headlined "The Next Tobacco?"

The motion cited two blog posts from 2012 and the comments below them as evidence that "the public, too, has observed that Judge Shaller is a USC graduate and suggested potential bias."

The NCAA has suffered a series of legal defeats in the lawsuit that McNair filed in June 2011 after the organization sanctioned the coach and USC in the aftermath of its extra benefits probe centered on former Trojans running back Reggie Bush.

Shaller rejected the NCAA's motion to dismiss the lawsuit in 2012. The judge wrote in his ruling that emails between members of the Committee on Infractions "tend to show ill will or hatred." One of the emails described McNair as a "lying, morally bankrupt criminal."

The 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the NCAA's attempt to seal hundreds of pages of documents in the case in February 2015, then followed up 10 months later with a strongly-worded opinion affirming Shaller's original ruling on McNair's libel and slander claims. The three-justice panel threw out the former coach's contention that the NCAA sanctions caused USC to not review his contract.

The California Supreme Court in March denied the NCAA's petition to review the appellate court ruling that allowed McNair's lawsuit to proceed.

A case management hearing in L.A. County Superior Court is scheduled for June.

Twitter: @nathanfenno

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