Confusion Rules

A dramatic and emotional day of testimony Thursday concluded with a powerful argument from plaintiff attorney Charlie Gilmer, causing Judge Stephen Wilson to make a surprising reversal of his previous decision that Ronnie Cottrell is a limited purpose public figure, greatly improving Cottrell's chances with the jury in Tuscaloosa Circuit Court in his suit against recruiting analyst Tom Culpepper.

Or so everyone thought.

The attorneys in the case were called back into the courtroom by Judge Wilson about a half hour after the parties initially left the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse at approximately 4 p.m. to tell the attorneys there would be additional hearings on the public/private figure matter for Cottrell Friday morning.

"We're going for a re-hearing on the re-hearing on the re-hearing," Cottrell attorney Tommy Gallion said. "I almost feel like I've been in a bad movie, a bad dream or something."

The decision to declare Cottrell a private figure was the first major decision in favor of the plaintiffs in Wilson's court. Private figure status would allow the jury to award a punitive damage if they found in favor of the plaintiff.

"Today for the first time I was uplifted, but it looks like it's going to be temporary," Gallion said.

The ruling to make Cottrell a private figure came after the court had ruled Ivy Williams was a public figure on Wednesday.

"I made the argument in good faith, but at the very least I think we had to take a chance," Elmer said. "I thought the argument had some force. We were still upset about the ruling with regards to Ivy Williams and the fact the rules were changed in the middle of the game."

"It was like tripping over a log," Elmer said. "It's a big issue. It's a glowing issue that's hard to miss. What's good for the goose is good for the gander."

John Scott, who is representing Culpepper, has declined commenting to the media since the trial began last week. He and Joshua Threadcraft, also a Culpepper attorney, went back and forth for about 20 minutes with Gilmer before the judge issued the ruling.

Elmer argued that the court had made an overly broad ruling as to the scope of public controversy because of the limited-purpose public figure designation, while Scott and Threadcraft said that the specific defamatory statements were directly tied to Cottrell's character and integrity to be recruiting coordinator.

Elmer's argument was bolstered because the court's earlier finding that limited Cottrell's claims of defamation to three actionable statements: 1.) that Cottrell stole from Shaun Alexander's charitable foundation, 2.) That Cottrell stole tapes from the University of Alabama and 3.) that Cottrell had abandoned his children.

"I think that these statements do not arise out of the controversy over the University of Alabama's recruiting," Wilson said from the bench. "The plaintiffs have a valid point that there is no public controversy regarding these three things."

The argument was raised again after Scott rested his case and requested a directive verdict from the judge.

Earlier, Culpepper took the stand again Thursday and was the final witness called by Scott.

Toward the end of his testimony he said he made the wrong decision in going talking to the NCAA because they violated their agreement not to use him as a source. Culpepper became emotional during Scott's final line of questioning, saying that his eight-week old child had been born with grave health concerns.

On cross examination, he reiterated that he was fearful of Logan Young and that him "taking a stand" against Young is what caused every witness who testified against him to lie.

He rejected Gallion's statement that his access to information was limited once Cottrell became the recruiting coordinator and that he sought revenge against Cottrell and Young, who he thought had a hand in bringing Cottrell to Alabama.

The jury was sent home around 3 p.m. and the legal arguments outside their presence were initiated after the defendants rested its case.

The jury is scheduled to report at 9 a.m. for closing arguments Friday morning after the judge rules for the fourth time about whether one of the plaintiffs is a public or private figure. It's not clear if the defendant will attempt to re-open its case before closing arguments.

Scott also called current Alabama director of football operations Randy Ross and Mike Wood as a part of Culpepper's defense.

In his brief testimony, Ross said the University purchased Culpepper's service through the end of the last recruiting season, and that Culpepper had a lock on getting tapes from the Alabama and Mississippi area.

Wood corroborated the threats by Young that Culpepper had alleged. Wood, who is still friends with Culpepper, said he considered Culpepper to be an honest person.

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