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    Attorneys tangle in USF players' bias suit

    Lawyers representing the basketball players and the university snipe at each other in court.

    By GRAHAM BRINK

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 6, 2001


    TAMPA -- The attorneys in the discrimination suit filed by eight University of South Florida basketball players against the school and former coach don't agree on much.

    In their first federal court appearance Thursday, attorney Jonathan Alpert, who represents the players, and USF's attorney, Tom Gonzalez, accused each other of causing delays and withholding information.

    They told U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo that they could not agree on the simplest of things, such as the length of depositions.

    After the hearing, Alpert said, "there cannot be forgiveness until there is truth" and compared the university's actions to "infanticide." Gonzalez shot right back, defending the university as the victim of "despicable" allegations.

    "We are ready to go," Gonzalez said. "We are innocent and want this to get to trial."

    The players -- Dione Smith, Avia Lee, Tanya Gary, Tamekia Williams, LaTonya Greer, Patrice Coleman, Charmain Leslie and LaToya Ward -- were in court Thursday and stood behind Alpert and co-counsel Sonia C. Lawson as they answered questions afterward.

    The lawsuit alleges that former coach Jerry Ann Winters treated black players more harshly than whites; instituted segregated housing on road trips; and punished black players more harshly than white players for similar offenses.

    Former assistant coach Tara Gibson has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also alleging discrimination. Alpert said in court that Gibson and at least one other woman he did not want to name would likely soon file suits against USF.

    Gonzalez said in court that Alpert has refused to disclose exactly who the women are suing, what the basis is and how much money they are seeking, all requirements in a civil case. He also blasted Alpert for "trying the case in the media."

    Alpert countered that as the investigation continues more allegations and plaintiffs arise, making it tough to estimate the damages.

    The next hearing is scheduled for April 17.

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