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Haslam is fighting a court order to testify in lawsuit against Pilot Flying J


The criminal prosecution involving a rebate scam maintained by Pilot Flying J still lingers, three years and two days after federal agents abruptly showed up at facilities owned by the nationwide truck-stop chain. Also lingering is civil litigation arising from the admitted bilking of customers.

The man at the top of the ladder has recently been ordered to testify. That man, who also sits at the top of the Browns’ organizational chart, is fighting the court order to submit to a sworn deposition by May 11.

According to the Joey Garrison of the Tennessean, lawyers for Browns owner Jimmy Haslam have asked an Alabama judge to reverse the decision to compel testimony from Haslam. The paperwork cites “factual and procedural errors” in the petition to take Haslam’s deposition, calling the effort a “thinly-disguised effort to obtain discovery to be used in the litigation against him, wherever it ends up.”

But that’s the whole purpose of taking someone’s deposition. Indeed, it’s part of what’s generally called the “discovery” process. Lawyers for both sides find out who knows what, allowing a coherent and complete case to be constructed for trial.

It’s hard not to imagine that Haslam’s testimony would be relevant to any civil suit arising from the rebate scam, especially if the lawsuit seek punitive damages. If Haslam knew about and approved of the program to deliberately cheat customers who were deemed to be too unsophisticated to spot the shortfalls in their rebates, the situation takes on a much more sinister feel.

The bigger problem for Haslam is that he could still face criminal prosecution. As a result, anything he says in the civil suit can and will be used against him, if there’s an effort to indict him. Which could prompt Haslam to assert his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination at the deposition.

Which would create a gigantic mess for Haslam, both in the civil lawsuit and in the court of public opinion.