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Judge Says Zion Williamson Must Answer Questions About Getting Improper Benefits At Duke

Credit: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

There is trouble for Zion Williamson and Duke after a Florida state court judge ruled the New Orleans Pelicans rookie must answer questions under oath as part of a case where Gina Ford is suing him for $100 million.

According to ESPN, Florida 11th Circuit Court Judge David Miller ruled that Williamson will be required to answer interrogatories and requests for admissions from attorneys representing Miss Ford and Prime Sports Marketing. They are suing Williamson for $100 million for what they believe was a breach of their marketing agreement.

Zion's attorneys are expected to file an appeal arguing that an earlier federal case in North Carolina involving the same parties and claims has precedence. They claimed in that case that Ford wasn't a registered agent in North Carolina, adding that the contract didn't include the warning required by a state law designed to protect amateur athletes from unscrupulous agents.

"That issue is a complete canard and a complete red herring," Williamson's attorney, Jeffrey Klein, told Miller during a 52-minute virtual hearing on Tuesday morning. "[W]e believe that as a matter of law the statute bars that contract. The issue with respect to amateur status, there's no issue with respect to his amateur status, and in fact, if they wanted to find out the issue with respect to amateur status, eligibility is a determination made by the NCAA and made by Duke. I don't think it's relevant here to what's transpiring because frankly those determinations have been made. ... It doesn't absolve their failure to comply with the North Carolina statute."

This all comes after Ford's attorneys asked Williamson to admit that his mother and stepfather had received benefits from several actors in an attempt to influence him to sign with the Blue Devils and to wear Nike or Adidas products.

One of Ford's attorneys claimed that the North Carolina law wouldn't apply to Williamson if he were not eligible when he played for the Blue Devils.

"The NCAA is not the final arbiter of that issue," Doug Eaton told Miller. "We're able to establish that he was not eligible during that time frame, which would be a defense to their claim that our contract was invalid. The purpose of this statute is to protect student-athletes -- actual student-athletes, eligible student-athletes -- from predatory behavior of agents. It's not designed to protect people that are already accepting improper benefits.

"If you're accepting improper benefits, you are not an eligible student-athlete, and the NCAA can rule retroactively that you are ineligible. It has happened numerous times before. ... This is not a set-in-stone determination that he's an eligible student-athlete, and we have the opportunity to prove that he was not eligible in that time frame, and that's what we're going to do."

This could mean a big problem for Zion and Duke University, according to ESPN's Stephen A. Smith. The analyst explained that Zion declaring under oath could be self-defeating for him, the university and the people involved in the recruiting process. During Wednesday's edition of 'First Take', Smith said:

“We talk in the black community about people like Johnny Cochran, God rest his soul, you know famous for the OJ [Simpson] trial and what have you. Willie Gary’s got that kind of reputation. He’s the real deal. I know him personally. He is the real deal, make no mistake about it. And having him represent her case against Zion Williamson, this man is going to go after it,” Smith said. “He’s exceptional at what he does and he’s incredibly influential. So Zion Williamson, we’ve got to keep our eyes on this situation because the objective is to have him under oath answering questions directly as it pertains to his eligibility. You and I both know what kind of trouble you can get into if you commit perjury, if you lie under oath. And so as a result of that, for him to be compelled … that’s why his case, his team was trying to deny them the right to question him and for him to be under oath having to answer these questions.

“This could have incredible implications when it comes to Duke, Mike Krzyzewski, or anybody, maybe not Coach K. Maybe it’s other people associated with Duke’s program,” Smith said. “If you’re accusing the man of taking improper and illegal benefits — and the keywords here was before and while he was at Duke — now Duke may have a problem depending on what level of testimony is given here. So I don’t have an answer; I don’t have a definitive position because I don’t know. All I know is, this is not … this is going to get very dicey for a lot of people other than Zion Williamson if he has to testify under oath. Because I can assure you, Willie Gary’s going to ask those questions that are going to make a whole lot of people very, very uncomfortable.”

This is anything but a good situation for the Pelicans rookie. He's been involved in legal disputes after he declared for the NBA draft and that doesn't seem to be stopping anytime soon. Only time will tell if Zion can leave the situation without major consequences, but the picture doesn't look good at this moment.