It won't be easy. It could get messy.
Former Cardinals star Albert Pujols is likely to face a tough fight in the defamation lawsuit he filed Friday over ex-Cardinals slugger Jack Clark's repeated claims that Pujols used steroids, according to law experts.
"These cases are hard to win," said Carl Solano, an attorney from Philadelphia who specializes in communications law.
"So hard to win," said Neil Richards, First Amendment law professor at Washington University in St. Louis.
Even Pujols knows it.
"My lawyers have told me that the upcoming legal fight will not be an easy one, and that in cases like this even a liar can sometimes be protected under the law," Pujols, who has long denied using any banned substances, said in a statement. "But as a man of faith, I have never shied away from standing up for the truth, and I believe that the principles at stake are too important to sit back and do nothing."
Pujols, now playing for the Los Angeles Angels, sued Clark in St. Louis County over comments made in early August during "The King and The Ripper" sports talk program on WGNU 920 AM. Clark was in his first week as co-host when he said on-air he knew for a fact that Pujols "was a juicer." He also claimed that former Pujols trainer Chris Mihlfeld confided in him about shooting up Pujols with performance-enhancing drugs in 2000. Even as Mihlfeld denied it, Clark tweeted that he stood by his story.
The lawsuit targets Clark alone. It does not seek damages from Clark's co-host Kevin Slaten or insideSTL, the sports radio outfit that employed both men as independent contractors. Clark and Slaten quickly were pulled off the air. On Thursday, insideSTL, seemingly eager to stave off litigation, issued a lengthy and full-throated retraction and apology.
But Pujols, as a public figure and famous ballplayer, faces a high hurdle to win his case in court, said Amy Ginensky, a media attorney in Philadelphia.
"In order to succeed in his case, he will have the burden of proving the allegations were materially false," Ginensky said. Clark doesn't need to prove his claim is true.
Pujols also has to convince a jury that Clark made his comments with "actual malice," said Richards. That means Clark knowingly lied or showed a reckless disregard for the truth.
"Mere negligence is not enough," Richards said.
The stain of steroids in baseball has led to other legal battles. A trainer named Brian McNamee, who testified he injected Roger Clemens with performance-enhancing drugs, is suing Clemens for defamation for what he said were the former all-star pitcher's attempts to discredit him. Earlier this year, a former friend of Ryan Braun claimed in a lawsuit that the Milwaukee Brewers' slugger defamed him as Braun fought a failed drug test. Braun was suspended for 65 games by Major League Baseball this year amid reports linking him to banned drugs.
Clark's attorney, Chet Pleban, touched on another risk for a famous person fighting a defamation lawsuit.
He said his client would welcome a jury trial in this matter. "And we'll look forward to the discovery process and the deposition of Mr. Pujols," Pleban said. "I have a variety of questions for Mr. Pujols."
Attorneys can cast a wide net as they search for the truth that sits at the heart of a libel or slander case.
"He opens up his entire life when he does this," Solano said of Pujols. "They can investigate everything."
That's why attorneys advise clients considering a defamation suit to take a deep breath, Solano said. It is oftentimes just not worth it.
But Solano said he understood what might have led Pujols to file his lawsuit.
"Most likely," Solano said, "he's angry."
Reporter Kim Bell contributed to this article.
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