Fayette County

Fans threatened his life, business. Referee wants suit kept out of Big Blue Nation’s capital.

Kentucky head coach John Calipari argued a call with referee John Higgins in the first half of the South Regional final game against North Carolina in the NCAA college basketball tournament in Memphis, Tenn., on March 26. Kentucky lost by two points.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari argued a call with referee John Higgins in the first half of the South Regional final game against North Carolina in the NCAA college basketball tournament in Memphis, Tenn., on March 26. Kentucky lost by two points. AP

Big Blue Nation is the reason a referee can’t file a lawsuit against Kentucky Sports Radio in Lexington, likely home to some of those fans who threatened the official’s life and business, according to new court documents.

John Higgins wouldn’t get a fair trial and could be endangered if the venue was changed to Kentucky where many University of Kentucky men’s basketball fans’ reside, his attorney said in a court document. Higgins wants a federal judge to reject a motion by KSR and founder Matt Jones to dismiss the case in Nebraska where Higgins lives and has a roofing and siding company, Weatherguard.

“Understandably, defendants would prefer to litigate in Kentucky, the home of their devoted fan base, Big Blue Nation,” the new court documents say.

Higgins “would face substantial obstacles to a fair trial in Kentucky” where there is “hatred” of the referee, according to the documents.

In addition to KSR and Jones, Higgins and his wife, Carol, have named KSR’s managing editor Drew Franklin in the lawsuit. KSR, Jones and Franklin are accused of intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy and interference with a business relationship. Jones has called the lawsuit “frivolous” and without legal merit.

The Higgins’ were harassed and threatened by phone and by internet, losing more than $75,000, the couple says, after John Higgins was part of the officiating crew in Kentucky’s 75-73 loss to North Carolina during the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight game. KSR, Jones and Franklin published Higgins’ contact information and enticed UK fans to use it, the couple claim.

In the days after the loss, Higgins’ voicemail, business Facebook page and business reviews were flooded by angry UK fans. Police investigated the threats and the couple’s business suffered losses.

After the Higgins’ lawsuit was filed, KSR filed a motion arguing that the Nebraska federal court didn’t have jurisdiction in the case. The case should be transferred to Kentucky’s Eastern District or dismissed, Jones argued.

“Litigating in Kentucky would be more than ‘inconvenient’ for Mr. Higgins,” Higgins’ attorney John Passarelli said in the latest court filing. “Because of defendants’ campaign against Mr. Higgins, he secured the protection of a bodyguard for the March 2017 Final Four basketball game. And because of the defendants’ campaign against Mr. Higgins, he was advised ‘not to travel to Kentucky due to lack of security’ to receive an award from a basketball referees group in August 2017.”

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