The day after The Luhnow Interview, we spoke with KPRC Legal Analyst Brian Wice about possible legal implications.
Luhnow opened up to KPRC’s Vanessa Richardson about many different controversial incidents; the cheating, the Brandon Taubman scandal, and more.
1. Is Jeff Luhnow in any danger of being sued by the Astros or any of the individuals he spoke of in the one-on-one?
“Based on my review of the transcript of the interview, I believe Jeff has nothing to fear,” said Wice. “First, he has a First Amendment right to speak his mind about matters of public interest so long as what he says is neither libelous or slanderous. While there will be some folks in the executive suites at Minute Maid Park who won’t be thrilled with what he had to tell Vanessa, his remarks appeared to be based on matters what were either in the public record or could be supported by documentary evidence he had assembled. And unless Jeff signed a non-disclosure agreement as part of his severance package, if any, with the Astros, he is free to speak his mind about the way the team treated him. Finally, because a number of the people whom Jeff named are public figures, they would have to show that his comments were made with actual malice, a burden that is ordinarily difficult for a plaintiff to meet.”
2. Can Luhnow sue the Astros for wrongful termination, that is, for being fired unfairly?
“Let me be a lawyer for a moment,” Wice said. "It depends. If, as most high-level managers in the private sector, including those who are employed by professional sports franchises, Jeff’s employment contract probably had a clause that required him to seek relief in arbitration proceeding as opposed to bringing suit in civil court. If so, that’s where he and the team will face off. If not, a wrongful termination suit could be in the offing. Of course, the Astros defense in either venue is that Jeff violated the terms of his employment contract, what is sometimes referred to as a ‘morals cause,’ as a result of conduct the commissioner said he engaged in.
3. As a veteran criminal defense attorney and KPRC legal analyst, what did you think about MLB’s investigation as it related to Luhnow?
“Two words: not much,” stated Wice. "I’m tempted to call Commissioner Rob Manfred’s investigation a kangaroo court, but that would be unfairly maligning kangaroos. In my estimation, Manfred had absolutely no interest in Jeff’s side of the story and appeared to have rushed to judgement to pacify MLB as well as the Dodgers and some of the other victim’s of the team’s cheating. I was particularly struck by the commissioner’s refusal to contact any of Jeff’s character references, review the documentary evidence including the voluminous texts and emails that fortified Jeff’s contention that he had no actual or implied knowledge of the various cheating schemes the players and the people who worked the clubhouse and video facilities employed, and his refusal to permit Jeff to take a lie detector test.
4. Why didn’t the commissioner grant Luhnow’s request to take a lie detector test?
“First and foremost, because he didn’t have to. As the judge, jury, and executioner in this process, Manfred set the ground rules and Jeff had to live with them. As anyone who has ever binge watched Law and Order well knows, lie detector tests are inadmissible in court, but they are used every day in the business world both in private and public sectors as well as in the criminal justice system. Second, Manfred knew that Jeff would not have volunteered to take a lie detector test unless he was confident he would pass. Manfred did not want to and did not need to take the chance that Jeff’s lie detector results would wreak havoc on his etched-in-stone predetermination that Jeff was guilty of something.”
5. From a legal perspective, what was your general takeaway from Vanessa’s interview with Luhnow?
“I’ve been a criminal lawyer for a very long time. I’ve also had the privilege of being a special prosecutor and sitting as a judge at various levels of the criminal justice system that makes two solemn promises to any citizen accused of any crime; a fair proceeding with a reliable result. I recognize that because Jeff was not charged with a crime, he was not entitled to the same constitutional rights and protections he would have been had he been in a criminal courtroom. But because the process the commissioner and MLB used to condemn Jeff did not come within a time zone of being fair, it could not and did not produce a reliable result, one in which all of us on the outside looking in could have confidence in. The essence of MLB’s case was rank speculation, that is, Jeff could have known, likely knew, or should have known what the players and video folks were doing. Jeff’s life is a motion picture of a man who would never have sanctioned cheating of any kind. Period. The commissioner’s pitiful excuse for a full and fair investigation reduced Jeff’s life to a still frame from which the public will likely presume his guilt. I’ve been in courtrooms, trial and appellate, before judges who could not find fundamental fairness with both hands and a flashlight. But I know where due process goes to die; Rob Manfred’s office.”