John Dowd, a retired Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld lawyer who is now part of President Donald Trump’s outside legal team, cannot evade allegations that he defamed former professional baseball player Pete Rose, a Philadelphia federal judge ruled.
Dowd is part of the legal team representing Trump in the investigations of possible collusion by the Trump campaign with Russia, including the criminal probe being led by special counsel Robert Mueller III. But the onetime Akin Gump lawyer is also known for his work in 1989 on the so-called Dowd Report, which found that Rose bet on baseball during his affiliation with the Cincinnati Reds and which paved the way for Rose’s lifetime ban from Major League Baseball.
Rose, who holds the record for most career MLB hits, sued Dowd in July 2016, alleging that the lawyer made defamatory statements about him during a June 2015 interview with sports radio personality Jim Rome, and again in July 2015 on a Pennsylvania AM radio station. Rose is represented in the suit by Martin Garbus and Joseph Johnson III of Eaton & Van Winkle.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge Petrese Tucker in Philadelphia issued a mixed ruling on Dowd’s attempt to dismiss the case, throwing out a claim for tortious interference, but keeping intact a claim for defamation per se against Dowd. The judge also ruled that Rose and his lawyers could amend a defamation claim under Pennsylvania law.
Rose’s defamation lawsuit stems from a period in the summer of 2015, after ESPN’s investigative sports news program “Outside the Lines” released a report suggesting that Rose may have bet on baseball during his time as a player. Rose had, for some time, insisted that any betting he did on baseball happened during his later years as a manager for the Reds.
As The American Lawyer reported around that time, Dowd made the interview rounds in light of the ESPN report, including one on SiriusXM’s “Mad Dog Sports Radio” that quickly turned into a shouting match between the lawyer and host Christopher Russo.
But two other interviews are what led to Rose’s defamation suit.
Dowd told Rome during a June 2015 interview that an associate of Rose’s, Michael Bertolini, had been “running young women down in Florida for [Rose's] satisfaction,” according to Friday’s federal court ruling. Dowd then struck a similar note in a July 2015 interview with sports broadcaster Bill Werndl of West Chester, Pennsylvania, AM radio station WCHE 1520.
“Michael Bertolini, you know, told us that he not only ran bets but he ran young girls for [Rose] down at spring training, ages 12 to 14. Isn’t that lovely. So that’s statutory rape every time you do that,” Dowd told Werndl, according to Friday’s court ruling.
In the suit, Rose alleged that Dowd made his statements knowing they weren’t true, with an intent to harm Rose’s reputation. Beyond defamation, Rose alleged that Dowd’s comments amounted to tortious contract interference, an allegation related to footwear company Skechers declining to renew an endorsement deal after Dowd’s interviews aired.
In August 2016, Dowd sought dismissal, arguing that Rose fell short of the standards for pleading a viable defamation claim and that the suit didn’t do enough to show Dowd’s comments had any impact on Rose’s Skechers endorsement.
Tucker on Friday sided with Dowd on the tortious interference claim related to the Skechers deal, but allowed the defamation claim to move forward.
Dowd declined to comment on Monday. He is represented by David Tobin of Tobin O’Connor & Ewing in Washington, D.C., and by Eli Segal and Amy Ginensky of Pepper Hamilton.
One of Rose’s lawyers, Johnson of Eaton & Van Winkle, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Scott Flaherty covers the business of law with a special focus on plaintiffs firms. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sflaherty18.