Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Updated: April 18, 7:23 AM ET
Chatman's attorney: LSU forced resignation
By Elizabeth Merrill
The Pokey Chatman camp spoke Tuesday, and for the first time in six weeks, the embattled coach's intentions seem clear.
She plans on coaching again, doesn't want her job back at LSU and wants the university to pay her roughly $900,000.
Chatman's attorney, Mary Olive Pierson, said Tuesday her client was given about two hours to resign or be fired on March 7 amid allegations she had inappropriate sexual relationships with former players. In a five-page letter to the university, e-mailed to selected members of the news media, Pierson painted a picture of a coach unjustly treated and compared LSU's actions to "the Nifong school of decision making."
Pierson also said further legal action is likely if Chatman isn't compensated for the final two years of her contract.
"You can't con somebody into something and then hold them to the agreement," Pierson later told ESPN.com.
"They said, 'This is your option -- you're out of here or you're out of here.' That's pretty much what they said."
Reached late Tuesday, LSU general counsel Ray Lamonica said the university gave Chatman two options on March 7 -- resign as head women's basketball coach or be put on administrative leave while the investigation continued.
"We will honor the resignation agreement, and that's it," Lamonica said. "If it is a precursor [to a lawsuit], we handle lawsuits all the time."
Pierson's April 13 letter to the university detailed an April 11 meeting with LSU board of supervisors chairman Rod West in which Pierson wanted to "state [Chatman's] position."
She gave her account of the events of March 7, when she scheduled a 9:30 a.m. meeting with Lamonica to discuss rumors Chatman had heard about being fired or forced to resign. Within a couple of hours, Pierson said, her client was forced to resign. She said LSU claimed to not know the names of the athletes who were involved in the alleged relationships, and said the university made no attempt to interview them.
Pierson also said the university cited an "absolute zero tolerance" policy involving coach-player relationships that Chatman's camp later discovered didn't exist.
"If I'd have known on March 7th they didn't have a policy," Pierson said, "she would not have resigned."
Former LSU assistant coach Carla Berry, a college teammate of Chatman's, reported the alleged relations to the university in February. The school hired Van Chancellor as its new coach on April 11, and Berry announced she was leaving coaching days after the announcement.
Lamonica said the complainant -- he did not name Berry -- did not want to disclose the names of the involved student-athletes and that the university didn't require her to because "we had that information from other sources.
"We thought, and we still think, that the privacy interests of the students need to be protected. And we're going to go to every length to protect the privacy of the students."
Asked about a written zero-tolerance policy, Lamonica referred to NCAA bylaws and said Chatman's contract outlaid conduct policies.
"Does anybody believe you can do this kind of stuff and not have sanctions?" he said.
Though the relations were never outright denied in the e-mail, Pierson did call the claims "stories" based on hearsay. She said those "stories," according to the university, took place when Chatman was an assistant coach.
Pierson's letter said the university had prejudged the facts of the case.
"Frankly, it was my clear impression that the university had taken about two weeks to a) get one version of the story from Ms. Berry; b) make no effort to contact Coach Chatman to seek her input into the situation; c) make no effort to validate the unsubstantiated stories being told by Ms. Berry; d) rush to judgment; and e) terminate Coach Chatman and try to make it look like a voluntary resignation," she wrote. "For a timely analogy, I suggest that the decision making process applied in this case was created by someone who must have graduated from the Nifong school of decision making."
Mike Nifong is the embattled North Carolina district attorney who was recused from the Duke sexual assault case and later investigated by the state bar for improper conduct.
Pierson said she was confident Chatman would return to coaching, possibly as early as next season.
One thing is likely -- the legal wrangling will continue.
"LSU's interest is in having this case go away," said ESPN legal analyst Roger Cossack. "It's not in LSU's interest to have a lot of publicity about what they knew or should have known. And on Pokey's side, it's in her interest to get a little money out of the deal."
|Chatman's last regular-season game was a 70-27 LSU rout against Alabama on Feb. 25.|
Elizabeth Merrill is a writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.