Judge rules suit against Bush can proceed in open court

SAN DIEGO -- A sports marketer's civil suit against former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush will proceed in open court instead of going to a confidential arbitration, a judge ruled Friday.

Lawyers for the New Orleans Saints' running back petitioned to move the case into closed proceedings in San Francisco, in part to shield Bush from public attention.

Attorneys for marketer Lloyd Lake argued that the former University of Southern California star was trying to hide details from NCAA investigators about improper gifts he allegedly took from Lake's New Era Sports agency while playing for the Trojans.

Superior Court Judge Joan Lewis found there was no basis for granting the request and ordered pretrial depositions to continue as scheduled beginning at the end of the month.

Lewis rejected a request from Lake's lawyers to hear testimony from Michael Michaels, Lake's former partner in New Era, which was founded in November 2005 and is now defunct. Michaels, who owned a San Diego-area house where Bush's parents allegedly lived rent-free, reached an out-of-court settlement with the family in April 2007.

Lake is suing to recoup about $291,000 in cash and gifts Bush and his parents, Denise and Lamar Griffin, allegedly accepted during Bush's sophomore and junior seasons at USC, when fledgling New Era was seeking to make Bush its first major client.

Bush did not sign with New Era. He has repeatedly denied any impropriety.

"The plaintiff has an obligation to prove his case," Bush's attorney, David Cornwell, said outside the courtroom.

Lewis chastised both sides for failing to settle the terms under which information about Bush's finances will be shared, and threatened to appoint a private referee to oversee the discovery process if the two sides could not come to an agreement.

Attorneys for Bush claimed they were trying to protect the player's financial information from public disclosure, while Lake's lawyers complained they were simply being stonewalled.

"They desperately want confidentiality, because they don't want the public to know of his fraud and wrongdoing," Lake's attorney, Paul Wong, said after the hearing. Lake, who sat in the courtroom for part of the hearing, did not comment.

Bush was not in court.

The NCAA is making progress in its investigation, according to a statement provided by spokeswoman Stacey Osburn.

If the NCAA determines that USC violated rules, the football program may have to forfeit victories from the 2004 and 2005 seasons and face additional penalties. The Trojans won the national championship in 2004 and lost in the BCS title game against Texas the following season.

If Bush is found retroactively ineligible, he could lose his Heisman.

The player is scheduled to be deposed Sept. 9. A location has not been determined.