Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Judge denies motion to speed up case
LUBBOCK, Texas -- A judge ruled Wednesday that fired Texas Tech coach Mike Leach's lawsuit against the university can go forward, but not as quickly as his attorneys wanted.
State District Judge William Sowder denied a motion by Leach's attorneys to speed up taking depositions from school administrators and obtaining documents relevant to the case.
"I see no reason to give Mr. Leach any special treatment in this case," the judge told the court. "So this case will take an ordinary course of action."
Leach's attorneys said Sowder's denial doesn't jeopardize their case.
"We're pleased with the court's decision today," attorney Ted Liggett said after the hearing.
The university fired Leach on Dec. 30, two days after it suspended him amid allegations he mistreated a player with a concussion. His suit includes allegations of libel and slander, breach of contract and violation of Texas' Whistleblower Act.
Leach has denied he mistreated the player, sophomore receiver Adam James. The player said his coach twice ordered him to stand for hours while confined in a dark place during practice.
Sowder also ruled that the state's motion to dismiss the case on grounds of sovereign immunity -- which means a state agency or entity cannot be sued without permission from the Texas legislature or without a waiver based on a defendant's conduct -- will be taken up at a later date.
Daniel Perkins, a lawyer with the state attorney general's office, which is representing the university, declined to comment after the hearing and deferred comment to his office.
The attorney general's office, in an e-mail from spokesman Jerry Strickland, said because of the pending litigation it had no comment "other than what was addressed in court."
Sowder ordered the university to retain or preserve all documents and e-mails related to Leach's firing.
Perkins told Sowder he believed the seven claims in Leach's suit were an attempt "to pile on" accusations against the school and that the judge could rule on their motion to dismiss the case.
"Based on their own arguments you have everything you need" to take up the school's motion to dismiss on sovereign immunity grounds, he said.
Leach attorney Paul Dobrowski told the judge Wednesday that the coach "cannot get a job" due to the actions of the university.
"They don't want any discovery whatsoever," Dobrowski told Sowder.
With allegations of player mistreatment hanging over his head, Leach has been left out of discussions for openings at USC, Tennessee, East Carolina and South Florida, Dobrowski has said. Leach's agent attempted to set up interviews at the schools, he has said.
Dobrowski said that it was "not asking for the moon" to allow speedy depositions of university and athletic department administrators; James; his father, Craig James, an ESPN analyst and former NFL player; and a school attorney involved in investigating the mistreatment allegation.
"We're simply asking for what they have in their possession. ... and certainly do not constitute a fishing expedition," Dobrowski told the judge.
He also said the university wanted to "twist" the facts in their favor, and "that's not right."
In announcing his rulings, Sowder told Leach's attorneys that he had "real issues" with six of the seven claims in Leach's suit.
"I think we all know what we're dealing with is a waiver of conduct on the breach of contract" claim, Sowder said
The school began an investigation Dec. 20 and suspended Leach eight days later. On Dec. 29 Leach's attorney filed for a temporary restraining order to allow Leach to coach in the Alamo Bowl on Jan. 2, and a judge set a hearing for Dec. 30.
Before the two sides made it into the courtroom to argue the restraining order the university fired Leach with cause, meaning the university believes it does not owe any of the money left on Leach's five-year, $12.7 million contract.
Liggett said after the hearing that he wasn't prepared to comment on whether the school has made overtures toward settlement talks.
"We're not prepared to make a statement on that," he said. "We're always ready to listen."
Leach attorney Paul Dobrowski told the judge that the coach "cannot get a job" due to the actions of the university.