As originally reported by TMZ and confirmed by The Clarion-Ledger, lawyers for Hugh Freeze submitted a request that he not be deposed as part of the civil suit between Laremy Tunsil and his stepdad. The presumed concern on Freeze's part is that anything he says under oath during a deposition could be used by the NCAA in its investigation into Tunsil's statement last week suggesting he received money from his college coaches.
So what does this all mean and how could it affect the NCAA investigation? Let's start from the beginning.
1) Tunsil is being sued by his stepdad.
Two weeks ago—three days before Tunsil was drafted to become a millionaire in the NFL, as coincidence would have it—Lindsey Miller filed a defamation of character lawsuit against his All-American stepson seeking compensatory and punitive damages related to a physical altercation last summer. Miller claims he was attacked after an argument about NFL agents. Tunsil claims he was protecting his mom. Criminal charges were filed and dropped against both men last August.
2) Miller's lawyer wants Freeze deposed.
Shortly after we initially heard about Tunsil's arrest last August, Freeze told ESPN that he was "proud of [Tunsil] for standing up for his mother and protecting his family." The lawsuit alleges that Tunsil passed along a made-up version of the story to Freeze in an attempt to "discredit Mr. Miller's allegations to law enforcement while bolstering Defendant Tunsil's reputation in the eyes of the general public."
Miller's attorney—a guy named Matthew Wilson who happens to be from Starkville—wants Freeze deposed in order to discover what Tunsil told his coach in the aftermath of the fight and why Freeze issued the statement to ESPN. The lawsuit also requests depositions for offensive line coach Matt Luke and assistant athletics director John Miller, who drove Tunsil to the sheriffs department after the incident and "may have independent knowledge of the facts of this matter."
3) Freeze wants the deposition blocked, or at least limited.
For those folks that aren't up on their legal terms, a deposition is out-of-court oral testimony that can be used in a trial. During that deposition, Freeze would be legally obligated to answer questions about Tunsil. And because this is a deposition, most objections would not prevent him from having to answer...even a relevance objection (unless the irrelevance was just horribly egregious).
He hasn't actually said as much, but the presumption is that Freeze wants to avoid having to answer questions that could be used against him by the NCAA. A motion issued by Freeze's attorney on Wednesday described the deposition request as "a fishing expedition as to Freeze's liability."
The Clarion-Ledger reports that if a deposition does happen, his lawyers want it to "be conducted through written questions, would only relate to Freeze's conversations with Tunsil regarding an altercation between Tunsil and Miller last summer, would only have parties and counsel related to the case in attendance and would be sealed pending court order."
4) No, this isn't the same thing as Freeze admitting guilt.
Freeze is not a party in the suit, so it's certainly not unusual that he'd rather not sit through a lengthy deposition. And whether he has something to hide or not, putting himself in a situation in which he's legally obligated to answer questions—as opposed to an NCAA interview in which he's not legally obligated to say a damn thing—is a bad idea, particularly when the lawyer on the other side is a Mississippi State fan who has publicly derided Ole Miss on Facebook.
Also, don't take this as Freeze admitting any wrongdoing. It is quite reasonable for him to want to preclude the NCAA from his testimony at this point. They would read into his words as much as possible and could draw out the already lengthy investigation even longer.
5) The NCAA has used legal depositions for its own purposes before.
In 2013, the key figure in the Miami football investigation, Nevin Shapiro, was going through bankruptcy court. The NCAA leveraged this to their advantage, payrolling Shapiro's lawyer to use depositions related to the bankruptcy proceedings as a cover to ask questions of witnesses within the football program under oath. Using the American legal system as a means to enforce its own petty rules is obviously wildly inappropriate—the NCAA was forced to apologize and drop any evidence it had acquired through the depositions.