What’s the latest with the Rebel Rags lawsuit?

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, July 3, 2018

It’s been more than a year since Rebel Rags began its lawsuit in connection with the NCAA’s long-running investigation into Ole Miss’ football program. Yet any real progress in the case has been hard to come by.

A lawsuit that was initially brought against Mississippi State players Leo Lewis and Kobe Jones as well Lindsey Miller now includes former MSU coach Dan Mullen, former MSU athletic director Scott Stricklin and the NCAA as co-defendants after Rebel Rags filed a second complaint earlier this year. In March, the Mississippi Supreme Court denied petitions made by Lewis and Jones for interlocutory appeals seeking a transfer of venue and severance, but it’s been relatively quiet since then.

So where does the case stand three months later? It’s still largely at a standstill, though things could start moving forward later this summer.

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A motions hearing is scheduled for July 25 at the Union County Courthouse in New Albany. That’s when many of the motions that have the case in a holding pattern will be ruled on, including Lewis, Jones, Mullen and Stricklin each seeking dismissal, transfer of venue and severance and a collective move by the defendants for a protective order of confidential information. Rebel Rags has objected to all of those motions in court filings.

Motions have also been filed on both sides to compel discovery. The deadline for motions to be filed is Friday, according to court documents.

Lafayette Circuit Court Judge John Kelly Luther in October denied motions by Lewis and Jones to transfer and sever while the Supreme Court’s decision kept the case in Lafayette County, where Rebel Rags is located. The attorneys for Lewis and Jones argued the case should be heard in Oktibbeha County since that’s where their clients were interviewed and have filed a second round of motions in response to the amended complaint.

Should the motions to dismiss, transfer venue and sever again be denied, the process of discovery, including depositions, would move forward. Information obtained through discovery would be public record if the motion for a protective order is thrown out.

Rebel Rags initially sued Lewis, Jones and Miller, the stepfather of former Ole Miss All-American Laremy Tunsil, for defamation, commercial disparagement and civil conspiracy in June 2017, accusing them of making deliberately false statements in interviews about the Oxford-based retail store’s connection to the probe. In the school’s amended Notice of Allegations, the NCAA accused former staffers Barney Farrar and Chris Kiffin of arranging for Lewis, Jones and Miller to receive approximately $2,800 worth of free merchandise from the store during recruiting visits.

In February, Rebel Rags filed a second lawsuit centered on the same allegations against Mullen, Stricklin, NCAA investigator Mike Sheridan and college sports’ governing body, accusing them of an overarching conspiracy resulting in detrimental effects for the store. The two suits have been consolidated, Rebel Rags attorney Charles Merkel Jr. said.

The Rebel Rags allegation was one of 15 Level I charges levied against Ole Miss, which was hit with a multi-year bowl ban as part of the final penalties handed down by the NCAA in December. Ole Miss also disassociated six boosters, including Rebel Rags owner Terry Warren, but the school reinstated Warren pending its appeal of the findings and penalties.

Ole Miss will have an in-person hearing — the final step in the appeals process — with the Infractions Appeals Committee later this summer.