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Johnny Depp lawyer looks to clear name of NBA standout in defamation case against newspaper owner, opinion writer over ‘false’ abuse claims

 
Camille Vasquez, Richaun Holmes

Camille Vasquez (STEVE HELBER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images), Richaun Holmes (AP Photo/José Luis Villegas)

An attorney who rose to national prominence for her successful representation of actor Johnny Depp in a defamation case against actress Amber Heard is now representing an NBA star in a similar legal action against the owner of a newspaper and an opinion journalist.

The defamation lawsuit was filed on Richaun Holmes’ behalf last Wednesday, March 1, in California Superior Court, and contains Camille Vasquez’s signature. The case alleges two counts of defamation, one against Allexis Holmes—the NBA center’s ex-wife—and another against the “Bee defendants,” namely: The McClatchy Company, LLC, the owner of The Sacramento Bee, and Robin Epley, the opinion writer and editorial board member who bylined the articles at issue.

A second-round pick drafted out of Bowling Green in 2015, Holmes has played the last four years for the Sacramento Kings. The rugged-rebounding big man has seen his playing time dwindle in the 2022-2023 season, however, after starting the majority of games he played in the prior three seasons. The lawsuit said that Holmes’ leave from the team for “personal reasons” in March 2022 was followed by articles in the Sacramento Bee, written by Epley, publicizing “blatantly untrue” allegations of domestic abuse and child abuse that “sent the unmistakable (and unmistakably false) message to their readers that Allexis Holmes is a victim and Plaintiff is an abuser.”

“This is a case about journalism at its worst — a case about a newspaper and one of its new reporters clinging to, and cashing in on, a false narrative, steeped in harmful racial stereotypes, in the face of mounting evidence that their chosen narrative was blatantly untrue,” the suit began. “Yet despite being vindicated in court, Plaintiff has been wrongfully labelled an abuser in the public eye.”

The lawyers, including Vasquez’s Brown Rudnick LLP colleagues Leo Presiado, Jessica Meyers and Sam Moniz, also prominently highlighted in the filing the fact that multiple courts from Georgia to California saw fit to award Richaun Holmes full custody of his son, RJ.

“The victim of this irresponsible journalism is the Plaintiff, Richaun Holmes, an exemplary father who has worked tirelessly, and even sacrificed his starting position for an NBA team, to do right by his son and was, ultimately, awarded full custody of his son over the boy’s mother by three separate courts,” the court documents said.

The suit detailed that the Holmes’ relationship began in college and led to marriage in 2015 after Allexis gave birth to the couple’s son, over whom they would later engage in a “bitter” custody battle central to the subject matter in The Sacramento Bee articles. By 2019, the couple had finalized a divorce.

The lawsuit claimed that Allexis “was reasonably cooperative with Plaintiff and did not interfere with [Richaun’s] spending time with” his 6-year-old son until she learned that her ex was dating another woman. The filing claimed that what followed was a series of verifiably false but nonetheless “horrific allegations” of domestic abuse that were then given credence through Epley’s series of articles. The suit also referenced The Sacramento Bee’s video interview airing Allexis Holmes claims. That interview is available to watch on YouTube:

Richaun Holmes’ legal team argued that Epley, in her own words, continued to “believe” Allexis Holmes and doubled down on that position even as the Sacramento County Superior Court denied the accuser’s request for a restraining order.

“[W]hen the Sacramento County Superior Court rejected Allexis’ request for a restraining order against the Plaintiff, the Bee Defendants responded with an article entitled ‘Allexis Holmes’ all too typical experience seeking protection from the Kings’ Richaun Holmes,’ which, despite the Superior Court’s rejection of Ms. Holmes’ allegations, proceeded from the explicit premise that Ms. Holmes is a victim in need of ‘protection’ from Plaintiff,” the Richaun Holmes lawsuit said.

“Ms. Epley and the Bee repeatedly publicized, legitimized, and endorsed as true Ms. Holmes’ claims that Plaintiff was abusive to her and their son,” the case alleged in summary. “Ms. Holmes’ claim of abuse that the Bee Defendants spread far and wide, however, was a terrible lie — and the information and public record available and known to, but apparently ignored by, Ms. Epley and the Bee proved as much. Ms. Holmes fabricated the claim that Plaintiff had abused her and their son to gain leverage in her custody dispute with the Plaintiff.”

The basketball player maintained that The Sacramento Bee and its opinion writer “had their own self-serving motives to, instead, spin the false narrative that Richaun is a wealthy, professional athlete plagued by domestic abuse allegations but protected by sporting and legal institutions, and use that narrative to benefit themselves,” the lawsuits states. Meanwhile, plaintiff claimed, Richaun Holmes was emotionally harmed and his career outlook damaged by the “lie” that “Allexis Holmes is a victim and Plaintiff is an abuser”:

Plaintiff has suffered damages in an amount in excess of the jurisdictional minimum of this Court as a direct result of Ms. Holmes’ false statements, including without limitation damage to his reputation; damage to his personal brand, and goodwill in the community as a player for the Kings and in the NBA generally as a professional player who is damaged by an unjustified scandal; emotional suffering and distress; potential income and goodwill associated with lost projects as a result of the negative publicity associated with Ms. Holmes’ allegations and the Bee Defendants’ widespread publication and endorsement of those allegations, and associated long-term loss of goodwill and marketability.

While a lawyer for The Sacramento Bee defended Epley’s work in a comment to the publication as “a combination of fair and true reporting of judicial proceedings and opinion,” Allexis Holmes reportedly reacted to the suit by saying: “I know the truth, and so does he” and “I can’t wait for our first date in court.”

In a statement to Law&Crime, Camille Vasquez said The Sacramento Bee articles about Richaun Holmes amounted to “a coordinated and malicious effort to deliberately defame Mr. Holmes – a devoted father, son, and teammate.”

“We will pursue all available remedies to rebuild from the damage that The Sacramento Bee, Epley, and Ms. Holmes have inflicted on Mr. Holmes. Despite the publicly available court decisions disproving each of these allegations, this narrative will have a lasting impact on Mr. Holmes’ life and career,” Vasquez said. “Mr. Holmes will continue to be the outstanding father, player, and community member he always has been, and we look forward to this matter being resolved.”

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.