Monday, June 4, 2007
State judge dismisses lawsuit over e-mail critical of Mustain
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- A state judge dismissed a lawsuit
Monday against University of Arkansas officials over an e-mail
critical of former Arkansas quarterback Mitch Mustain.
Washington County Circuit Judge Mark Lindsay ruled in the case
brought by John David Terry of Mount Ida, who claimed that public
money was misused because university Chancellor John A. White had
Arkansas football coach Houston Nutt investigate the e-mail.
"I have not been shown any reason that a state court should
interfere in the administration of the football program or athletic
program," the judge said after hearing arguments in the case.
Terry sued White and university system President B. Alan Sugg,
alleging that White should not have had Nutt investigate the e-mail
because it was sent to Mustain by Razorbacks booster Teresa
Prewett, a friend of Nutt's family. Terry also said White was
obligated to follow NCAA rules. One rule cited in the plaintiff's
complaint says a school must maintain a positive relationship with
The judge dismissed Terry's claims of breach of contract and
breach of fiduciary responsibility, saying the court didn't have
jurisdiction in those matters. He also dismissed Terry's claims
that actions taken by university officials amounted to an illegal
exaction and that the court should order more investigating. But on
those two points, the judge left Terry's attorney 20 days to amend
and refile the lawsuit.
Eddie Christian Jr., a Fort Smith attorney representing Terry,
said he wasn't yet sure whether he would amend his filing.
Both Terry and White appeared in the Fayetteville courtroom with
their attorneys, and they declined comment on the judge's ruling as
they left the courthouse.
Mustain started eight games for the Razorbacks last season, but
left the team after offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, his former
high school coach at Springdale, left Arkansas to take a job at
Tulsa. Mustain is now at Southern California.
Mustain's departure has contributed to a firestorm in Arkansas.
Nutt eventually gave Prewett an official reprimand and barred her
from the sidelines during games. He has said he did not initially
know about the e-mail, but some fans have speculated otherwise.
Nutt's cell phone records have been obtained by fans and media
under Arkansas' Freedom of Information Act, and Terry's lawsuit
notes contact among Nutt, his brother and running backs coach Danny
Nutt and Prewett around the time Mustain received the e-mail.
Nutt has been subpoenaed in Terry's lawsuit, but his deposition
was put on hold and Monday's hearing was scheduled to hear pending
motions in the case. Although Christian has 20 days to refile the
suit, discovery won't be allowed to proceed during that time
Monday's hearing lasted nearly three hours, with a brief break
before Lindsay returned with his ruling. Attorney Woody Bassett did
most of the speaking on White's behalf.
Bassett said White did investigate the e-mail, but that the
chancellor is under no obligation "to investigate an e-mail in a
manner that satisfies every taxpayer."
"If there was ever a case that ought to be tossed out of court,
it's this one," Bassett said.
Christian said the case was about public officials not wanting
to be held responsible for their performance.
"They don't want any accountability," Christian said. "They
don't want to be asked to perform their duties under the NCAA
The importance of NCAA regulations became a crucial issue, and
Lindsay sided with the university, citing a past case involving
former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian.
"The NCAA constitution, rules and regulations ... are not state
law, according to the United States Supreme Court," Lindsay said.
Arkansas had argued in its motion for dismissal that Sugg and
White should be immune from the lawsuit, and Lindsay dismissed two
of the counts on jurisdictional grounds.
"This is not the 'People's Court' like you see on TV. This is
not, 'Have you been wronged? Take them to court,'" Lindsay said.
"Courts can only hear what they have jurisdiction to hear."
At one point in his oral argument, Christian read from Prewett's
e-mail to Mustain, and the judge agreed that it was "despicable."
But Lindsay appears swayed by the defense's argument that his court
is no place for the matter to be discussed.
"It belongs on an Internet message board or in a chat room,"
Bassett said. "Not in a court room."