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YOUNGSTOWN Ruling is for Hawks in lawsuit



Published: Wed, July 25, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The team owner had the right to terminate the contract of General Manager Marlee Juranovich.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- The Youngstown Hawks basketball team did not violate the contract of its general manager when the team flew north out of the city some 19 months ago, a judge has ruled.

The Sharon, Pa., woman also was not defamed by the team's then-owner, Ted J. Stepien, according to Judge James C. Evans of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

The Hawks, who played in the International Basketball Association, left Youngstown in January 2000 to play in Saskatoon, Canada. Lack of attendance for home games was a primary reason for the move.

The Hawks played their home games at Youngstown Sports Arena, which was formerly the South High School Field House.

Filed suit: Marlee A. Juranovich sued the team and Stepien in February 2000, saying her contract was breached when she was laid off due to the relocation. She was seeking more than $7 million in damages.

The matter was set for trial next week, but Judge Evans instead made his decision based on written arguments submitted by attorneys for both sides.

Juranovich's attorney, M. Robert Flanagan of Elyria, had not seen the decision and declined to comment. Stepien's attorney, Anthony W. Kerber of Lakewood, could not be reached to comment.

According to court documents, Juranovich was hired as general manager in June 1999 and was to be paid a $25,000 annual salary plus 3 percent of paid business such as season ticket sales, advertising signs and program advertisements.

Her contention: Juranovich argued that her contract was a multi-year deal, and that by moving the team after just one season she was denied the income from subsequent years.

Team officials countered that the contract was for one year only.

Judge Evans said the contract was an "at-will" agreement, meaning it was not for a specific period and could be terminated at any time by either party.

Ruled no proof: Juranovich also said in the suit that Stepien defamed her in a Feb. 17, 2000, letter to his Youngstown ownership partners, but Judge Evans ruled there was no proof of defamation.

"The letter is a mixture of fact and opinion," Judge Evans wrote in his ruling.

He said Juranovich's lawyer did not prove any of the facts to be false, and that Ohio law protects opinion from being defamatory.

In the letter, Stepien wrote that Juranovich got her job under false pretenses by claiming she would buy 10 percent of the team and become part-owner, which she never did.

The letter also made negative comments about Juranovich's job performance.

bjackson@vindy.com




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