When 7-foot-2 former basketball star Shaquille O’Neal walks into a room, it’s hard not to notice. But one federal judge found this week that it’s hard to miss his absence too.
O’Neal is the defendant in a lawsuit alleging that he violated the publicity rights of plaintiff Jahmel Binion and intentionally caused Binion emotional distress. Binion suffers from ectodermal dysplasia, a condition that results in an unusual physical appearance due to abnormalities in hair, teeth and nails, according to his complaint.
Shaq posted Instagram and Twitter pictures of himself, contorting his face, juxtaposed against pictures of Binion. The Twitter post was allegedly sent to over 8.6 million followers and received numerous “likes” and comments.
On Jan. 27, the parties held a mandatory mediation conference. O’Neal’s attorneys appeared at the conference and Shaq was available for part of the conference via Skype. But the court said that wasn’t good enough: local rule 16.2(e) requires all parties to be present at mediation unless excused by the judge.
Like good teammates, O’Neal’s lawyers put up their hands and accepted the foul on his behalf—to the tune of $13,058.82. The court awarded that amount, which represented Binion’s attorney fees and travel costs for the mediation and the sanctions motion. (Shaq’s attorneys didn’t respond to a request for comment.)
We’ll be watching the lawsuit on its merits and let you know if Shaq still plays world-class defense. Binion’s case may not be a slam dunk, but he’ll be in better shape if Shaq keeps committing technical fouls.
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