Dukes admits marijuana use

Revelation comes out at a chaotic divorce hearing.

Published July 17, 2007

TAMPA - Troubled Devil Rays outfielder Elijah Dukes admitted under oath Monday that he smokes marijuana.

After Dukes' estranged wife accused the ballplayer of doing the drug "on a daily basis," Hillsborough Circuit Judge Kevin Carey asked Dukes if he uses it.

"Yes, I do," said Dukes, 23.

Although Dukes is also facing a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge in criminal court, his admission came during a civil court proceeding related to his ongoing divorce.

The judge ordered that Dukes, who recently returned from a Houston psychiatric center, undergo random drug tests, pay his wife about $3,300 a month temporary alimony and pay child support for the couple's two children.

Rays officials declined to comment.

Major League Baseball fines players but doesn't suspend them for marijuana use. The league is tougher on other illicit drugs.

Dukes has been under scrutiny since his estranged wife, NiShea Gilbert, 26, told the St. Petersburg Times that he threatened to kill her and their children. After weeks of controversy, the Devil Rays put Dukes on the temporary inactive list. He was optioned to Class A Vero Beach with the agreement that he will receive his $380,000 major-league salary. In the meantime, Gilbert filed for divorce.

Dukes' attorney told the judge the ballplayer had recently been treated in Houston for emotional issues and drug abuse.

The small courtroom quickly filled with tension as attorneys for Dukes and Gilbert sparred over everything from a suggestion of steroid use and alcohol abuse to pricey haircuts, car leases and sports apparel deals. They even debated which expert should handle the couple's mediation.

The judge described the case with the language of battle.

"I can tell you, Mr. Dukes, war is expensive," Carey said, adding, "You're going to pay for this war."

Dukes appeared frustrated. He interrupted the judge, despite repeated warnings. He wadded yellow paper into the shape of a ball and tossed it in the air. He appeared confused during questioning about his finances, including whether the Devil Rays paid for his meals.

"We gotta eat," he finally answered, acknowledging the Rays paid for away-game food.

Both he and Gilbert spoke of their short-lived marriage.

The two met in 2003, married in 2006 and split in April 2007. Along the way, they had two children, now 2 and 3.

Gilbert, a teacher at Beth Shields Middle School in Ruskin, told the judge Dukes hadn't given her any money since the split.

Gilbert, who gave her income as $35,000 to $40,000 a year, said she had to take out two loans to make ends meet until school re-opens in August. In addition to child support, she asked for help with insurance and with therapy for their son, who is upset by the divorce.

She said her husband had a drug problem, used marijuana "during the day, night" and drank heavily, downing Patron tequila, Hennessy cognac and Smirnoff vodka "until he has passed out."

His substance abuse brought out anger in him, she said.

"Just very aggressive, hitting me, gets mad over minute things," she said.

Her attorney, Catherine Real, raised concerns about whether Dukes used steroids, noting his profession and displays of anger. She offered no evidence.

Major League Baseball tests all players at the start of the season for performance-enhancing drugs. MLB suspended Rays relief pitcher Juan Salas in May after he tested positive for a "performance-enhancing substance." The team reported no other failed tests.

Grady Irvin, a local attorney with experience representing professional sports figures, questioned Real's judgment for broaching the subject in open court.

"Statements like that can be very damaging to a person's career," he said. "You can get help if you have a temper. But if an allegation is out that you made the home runs you made this season because of steroids, that's hard to rectify."

Dukes aired his own complaints in court. He accused Gilbert of forging his name on insurance documents, raiding their joint bank account and taking money for herself without telling him.

He said he always provided financially for the kids.

The judge ordered Dukes to pay about $2,800 a month in child support, pending the results of a paternity test on one child.

Dukes went into few details about his drug use or the allegations of violence, other than to say: "Now, I'm at home trying to get better."

Staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at 226-3373 or vansickle@sptimes.com.