Johnson is sued by city woman

December 16, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

A Baltimore woman has filed a paternity suit against Charlotte Hornets All-Star Larry Johnson, and a judge has ruled the case should be heard publicly because it underscores issues surrounding teen-age pregnancies and illegitimate births.

Papers filed in Baltimore Circuit Court show Angela Lynn Jeffress claims that Johnson fathered a daughter born to her on Oct. 4. Johnson denies being the girl's father, court documents show.

Both sides asked that the case be sealed and that they be allowed to proceed under fictitious names. Judge Andre M. Davis turned them down, saying the case could contribute to public knowledge about paternity law.

"From the highest levels of the socio-economic strata of our society, in Hollywood and on Wall Street, to the all-too-common incidence of teen-age pregnancy, which has become a scourge of the inner city and the suburbs alike, the issue of out-of-wedlock births is a matter of ongoing and grave public concern and interest," the judge wrote in a five-page order filed late Tuesday. "The involvement of a public figure in such a case [and the attendant publicity] contributes, if only marginally, to an increase of understanding among laypersons of important rights and remedies in this area of the law."

Davis was not impressed by Johnson's argument that making the case public could cause him "economic hardship" because he is "a widely recognized spokesman for national companies."

The judge wrote: "Johnson is entitled to no greater protection for his economic interests than any other litigant whose alleged private activities may be disclosed. . . ."

In October, the Hornets signed Johnson to the largest contract in NBA history, a deal said to be worth $84 million over 12 years. He also is known for his role as a dress-wearing, basketball-dunking "Grandmama" in footwear commercials.

Efforts to reach Johnson last night were unsuccessful; both a spokesman for the Hornets and his lawyer in the paternity case, William J. Murphy, said he was on an airplane headed toward New Jersey, where the Hornets are scheduled to play tonight. Murphy declined to comment for the record about the case. He said Johnson may release a statement today through his agents.

Jeffress could not be reached for comment last night. Leonard C. Redmond III, a lawyer representing her in the paternity action, did not return phone calls.

Jeffress, who gives an address in the 600 block of E. 27th St., says in her complaint that she became pregnant by Johnson on Jan. 21 (nine days before the Hornets met the Washington Bullets at the then-Capital Centre). She says she was unmarried at the time.

The complaint does not give her age or describe any relationship between her and Johnson. A source involved in the case estimated the woman's age to be 25.

In court papers, Johnson has agreed to undergo a blood test that could help determine whether he is the father of the child. Jeffress' lawyers have announced in court papers their intention to take a deposition from Johnson on Jan. 27.

She is seeking a court order declaring Johnson father of the child and an order for him to pay child support. She also is seeking a court ruling giving her custody of the girl.

The suit was filed Nov. 23 and Johnson was served with court papers that same day in the lobby of a Greenbelt hotel. That night, Johnson, a 6-foot-7 power forward, scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as the Hornets lost to the Bullets, 118-98, at the USAir Arena.

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