Judge throws out $5M verdict, grants NCAA request for new trial

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- A judge threw out the $5 million verdict an Alabama football fan won in his lawsuit accusing the NCAA of slander, ruling in a decision made public Wednesday that jurors were swayed by prejudice.

Circuit Judge William Gordon granted the NCAA's request for a new trial in a lawsuit filed by timber dealer Ray Keller. He did not set a date.

Keller claimed the NCAA slandered and libeled him when it announced penalties against Alabama in 2002 by referring to him and others as "rogue boosters," "parasites" and "pariahs."

The NCAA said it never publicly identified Keller, and it portrayed him as a rabid fan who lost all perspective on the game.

Gordon said in a 13-page opinion that the multimillion-dollar verdict wasn't supported by evidence, and he ruled the award "is the result of passion or prejudice." He also sided with several other arguments by the NCAA, including a claim that jurors at the trial in Scottsboro heard improper instructions.

An attorney for Keller, Archie Lamb, said he would either ask Gordon to reconsider the decision or appeal directly to the Alabama Supreme Court.

"We just have to decide which is the better course of action," said Lamb.

The NCAA did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The NCAA portrayed the fan as giving "$100 handshakes" to a recruit and having improper contacts with other Crimson Tide recruits.

The NCAA investigation into Alabama recruiting practices were the subject of attention for several years, and Keller's name was widely used in media accounts. A Jackson County jury ruled in Keller's favor in November after hearing three weeks of testimony.

Jurors awarded him $3 million in punitive damages, $1 million for mental anguish, $500,000 for economic loss and $500,000 for damage to reputation. He had sought $33.5 million.

The trial included testimony from former football coach Gene Stallings, who is still popular for leading Alabama to its last national championship. In testimony that helped Keller, Stallings denied knowing him and said Keller held no sway with the football program.