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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – A federal judge on Tuesday refused a Duke University request to sanction lawyers for publicizing a lawsuit in which three dozen Duke lacrosse players say they were harmed by how authorities handled a discredited rape case against three teammates. U.S. District Court Judge James A. Beaty Jr. instead ordered lawyers on both sides to adhere to conduct rules if publicly discussing the case to protect a potential jury pool. During the hearing, Duke attorney James Donald Cowan argued the players’attorneys violated rules of professional conduct by attempting to try their case in the media. He noted a Web site that billed itself as the official source of information about the lawsuit contained claims not included in the lawsuit. The attorneys also held a news conference in Washington, D.C., to discuss the lawsuit before filing it in February in Winston-Salem. The players’ attorney, Charles Cooper, said he never intended to try the case outside the courts. He said the university used its “media relations machine” during the high-profile criminal case to promote its image and spin information. Cooper said he held a news conference to ensure the players — not the school — got their message out first. “It was clear to the 38 players I represent that Duke University would use its press apparatus to comment publicly on the case,” Cooper told the judge. Cowan later accused Cooper of using other people to speak about issues he couldn’t discuss publicly, mentioning the father of one player who spoke at the news conference and the publicist who runs the case Web site. Cooper denied the claim. “I am not their ventriloquist,” he said. Cowan and Cooper declined to comment on the case after the hearing. The 38 current and former lacrosse players sued the school, the City of Durham and others involved in the discredited criminal case. The lawsuit accuses them of fraud, abuse and breach of duty for supporting the prosecution of three other players who were indicted after a stripper said she was sexually assaulted during a team party in March 2006. The three men were later declared innocent. None of the players named in the lawsuit was criminally charged, but the men claim they suffered emotional distress. The players accuse Duke of idly standing by while players suffered abuse and harrassment on campus, and of imposing discipline that implied the team was guilty. Duke suspended and then canceled the highly ranked team’s season in the wake of the rape allegation.

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