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Judge orders NCAA President Mark Emmert’s deposition in Todd McNair lawsuit

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has ordered NCAA President Mark Emmert to be deposed in former USC assistant coach Todd McNair’s defamation lawsuit against the organization.

“Plaintiff needs, and has the right, to depose Emmert in order to investigate the intent and knowledge behind one of the statements Plaintiff alleges to be defamatory,” Judge Frederick Shaller wrote in a tentative ruling issued before a hearing on the matter Thursday.

The deposition is scheduled for April 4 in Indianapolis, two days after the Final Four in San Antonio and two weeks before the trial in the long-running case is scheduled to begin.

Emmert, attending the two Sweet 16 games at Staples Center on Thursday, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

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McNair sued the NCAA in 2011 in the aftermath of the extra benefits scandal centered around former USC running back Reggie Bush. The NCAA leveled historic penalties against the Trojans, including stripping 30 scholarships, banning the school from bowl games for two seasons and determining that McNair, Bush’s position coach, engaged in unethical conduct.

Emmert’s deposition, which will be subject to a protective order, is the latest in a years-long series of legal scuffles in the case.

At issue are Emmert’s comments to USA Today in December 2010: “Everybody looks at the Reggie Bush case and says, ‘It took them a long time.’ But they got it right, I think.”

Though Emmert became NCAA president only a month before the interview, some viewed the comments as prejudicial because McNair’s appeal was pending.

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In a court filing last month, McNair’s legal team described the comments as part of the “character assassination of Mr. McNair.”

NCAA attorneys pushed back against the deposition originally scheduled for Feb. 9. Kosta Stojilkovic wrote in an email to McNair’s attorneys that “we suspect you are seeking it in order to harass President Emmert and place undue settlement pressure on the NCAA.”

Shaller didn’t agree. The judge is a USC graduate whom the NCAA unsuccessfully tried to remove from the case in 2016.

“Defamation claims turn largely on the knowledge and internal mental state of the person who made the statement in issue [in this case, Emmert],” Shaller wrote in the tentative ruling. “No one has more direct evidence on that point than Emmert himself.”

The judge also denied the NCAA’s motion for a protective order preventing Emmert’s deposition and the organization’s motion for summary judgment in the case.

Emmert has been deposed at least twice as NCAA president — in 2014 as part of a wrongful death lawsuit by the parents of a Frostburg State football player in Maryland state court and in 2012 during a federal lawsuit in New Jersey over sports gambling.

nathan.fenno@latimes.com

Twitter: @nathanfenno

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