Jury Clears Former Texas Coach in Defamation Suit

Aug 13, 2002

By JIM VERTUNO
AP Sports Writer

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Former Texas basketball coach Tom Penders was cleared of charges he defamed his former assistant's reputation following a 1998 grade scandal.

A 12-member jury denied each of former Texas assistant Eddie Oran's claims Tuesday. Only 10 members of the jury had to sign off on the verdict in the civil case. Two jurors did not sign the verdict.

Oran sought as much as $900,000 in damages for loss of income, loss of his job at Texas, personal humiliation and mental anguish and suffering. Penders received $900,000 in his resignation settlement with the university.

Oran sued Penders over statements Penders made in 1999 about the improper release of a Texas player's grades to a radio station, claiming Penders smeared his reputation, keeping him from getting another job.

Penders did not take Oran with him to a new coaching job at George Washington University.

Penders has since left George Washington.

Oran originally took the blame for releasing Luke Axtell's grades, a violation of federal student privacy laws, in March 1998. Penders left Texas shortly afterward.

Oran later changed his story and said Penders' orchestrated the release. Oran's claims first surfaced publicly in depositions taken for a lawsuit Axtell filed against the school.

Although jurors were not asked to decide if Penders was responsible for the release of Axtell's grades, Penders said the verdict should resolve the conflict once and for all.

"From the very beginning I told the truth," Penders said. "I just I felt it was a closed issue."

Oran, who left the courtroom without comment, later released a statement saying he believed testimony at the trial proved he was telling the truth about the grade release.

"I am confident that the public can now see the full spectrum of events as they occured," he said.