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HeplerBroom Attorney Wins $2.9 Million Award for Tennis Coach in a Defamation Lawsuit

HeplerBroom attorney Lance Jones

The jury in an Illinois federal court case awarded Lance Jones’ client, Brian Holzgrafe, $2.9 million in a four-day trial for defamation.

The roots of the lawsuit began in 2017 when a member of Holzgrafe’s men’s tennis team (Daniel Lozier) at Quincy University spread a rumor that Coach Holzgrafe had had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a member of the women’s tennis team. The university’s Title IX investigation that ensued quickly uncovered that the allegation was false. Despite this finding, the student filed a $10 million lawsuit against the university and Holzgrafe. Several media outlets reported on the case but failed to clarify that the accusation was false.

At that point, Holzgrafe contacted Jones, who filed counterclaims for defamation and false light on Holzgrafe’s behalf.  The university settled with Lozier. All of Lozier’s claims against Holzgrafe were dismissed, leaving only Holzgrafe’s claims. The court entered summary judgment in favor of Holzgrafe on his defamation claim, finding Lozier was liable for defamation per se. Before the trial began, the false light count was dismissed by stipulation, which left only damages to be determined by the jury on the defamation count. At closing, Jones suggested a damages award between $1.25 and $1.8 million. Instead, the jury rendered the $2.9 million award.

Jones, of the firm’s Springfield office, is a trial attorney with a primary emphasis in litigation. He has argued cases before the Illinois Supreme Court, Illinois Appellate Court, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, as well as a number of Illinois administrative venues. Jones has been named an Illinois Leading Lawyer by Law Bulletin Media and is a former recipient of IDOT’s Award of Merit for Professional Excellence.


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