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Wisconsin appeals court says judge properly dismissed Ryan Braun libel lawsuit

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MADISON, Wisconsin — A judge properly dismissed a lawsuit alleging Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun libeled a former friend who helped him fight allegations he used steroids, a state appeals court ruled Thursday.

The 1st District Court of Appeals agreed that Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Paul Van Grunsven properly exercised his discretion when he tossed out Ralph Sasson's lawsuit last summer, noting that Sasson never produced any evidence that Braun made disparaging remarks about him in writing and that Sasson violated an order to keep discovery materials secret.

"Despite the court's warnings to Sasson about maintaining unsubstantiated claims, Sasson continued throughout the litigation to maintain that Braun published defamatory information about Sasson even though Sasson never produced any evidence of such conduct by Braun," the appellate court said in its unanimous decision.

Court documents indicate Sasson represented himself in the case. He said in an email to The Associated Press that the judge's seal order prevents him from providing what he called substantive comment but called the appellate ruling "an affront to our system of governance" and promised to exhaust all avenues of review in state and federal court.

Sasson filed the lawsuit in July 2013, shortly after Major League Baseball suspended Braun for the rest of that season after the five-time All-Star acknowledged using performance-enhancing drugs.

PHOTO: Milwaukee Brewers' Ryan Braun follows the flight of his triple off Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Chris Rusin in the fourth inning of a baseball game Sunday, June 21, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Milwaukee Brewers' Ryan Braun follows the flight of his triple off Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Chris Rusin in the fourth inning of a baseball game Sunday, June 21, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Sasson described himself in filings with the appellate court as a law student and a close friend of Braun's for the last 15 years. He alleged that Braun's agent, Onesimo Balelo, contacted him in 2011 and asked him to help research defenses against potential punishments Braun might face for testing positive for steroids. Braun tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone following his 2011 National League MVP season but avoided a 2012 suspension after challenging the chain of custody of his urine sample.

Sasson and Braun's camp got into a dispute over Sasson's compensation but he was ultimately paid about $7,000. Immediately after he was paid, Sasson alleged, Braun began making false and derogatory statements about him.

After filing his lawsuit, Sasson demanded information from Braun and his attorneys detailing whether Braun had cheated on girlfriends along with information on his business dealings with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Brewers. About a month after filing the lawsuit he expanded it to include Balelo and his talent agency as defendants.

Braun countered by demanding documentation that the remarks were ever published, a key factor in libel cases.

Van Grunsven, the judge, ordered all discovery materials sealed in January 2014. Despite the order, the appellate court found, Sasson shared Balelo's deposition with a third party. According to documents Braun's attorneys filed, he sent an email to MLB attorneys offering to give them all the information he had on the agent in exchange for help on his libel case.

According to Braun's filings, Sasson also attempted to depose Tony Bosch, a former Florida clinic owner who was accused of helping players obtain performance-enhancing drugs. Van Grunsven called the move an attempt to obtain embarrassing information about Braun.

Van Grunsven threw the case out in June 2014, finding Sasson initiated a baseless claim, his discovery requests were meant to harass and he showed a lack of professionalism.

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