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Friday, August 19, 2011
Court wants more info in Tech case

Associated Press

LUBBOCK, Texas -- The Texas Supreme Court on Friday said it wants more information in Mike Leach's lawsuit against Texas Tech, a fresh sign of life for the fired coach's claims against the school.

The state's highest civil court asked Leach and Texas Tech to file briefs on the merits of the case by Sept. 19.

In 2009, the university fired Leach two days after suspending him amid allegations of mistreating a player, receiver Adam James, who had a concussion. Leach denied the allegations and later sued for wrongful termination.

Leach has said he suspects an $800,000 bonus he was due the next day was the reason he was fired. He said it was good news the high court wants the sides to more fully explain their positions.

"We just want our day in court, like anybody would," Leach said. The justices "clearly believe it requires a second look."

Texas Tech spokesman Dicky Grigg said the request from the court was expected. Texas Tech attorneys have argued that the university is a state entity with sovereign immunity, meaning it can only be sued with permission from the state Legislature or a waiver based on a defendant's conduct.

A decision in January from the 7th Court of Appeals upheld Texas Tech's assertion of sovereign immunity and derailed Leach's pursuit of monetary damages. Texas Tech is appealing the lower court's ruling that Leach could pursue a non-monetary finding that he was wrongfully fired.

"We firmly believe that the Supreme Court will follow the law and dismiss Coach Leach's claim and that Coach Leach was terminated because of his irresponsible treatment of a player diagnosed with a brain concussion and his unwillingness to work with Tech leadership to resolve the issue," Grigg said.

Leach attorney Paul Dobrowski said the court wants to look at whether Texas Tech conduct in handling the former coach's dismissal warrants a waiver of sovereign immunity.

"It is unfair that the state can breach written contracts with private persons with impunity and the private party has no recourse in the judicial system," he said.

The justices won't rule on whether to accept either side's request for review of the case until about two months after the September deadline, said Osler McCarthy, the court's staff attorney. Four of the nine justices must ask for a review, he said.

An attorney in Lubbock not associated with the case said he believes the request for more information bodes well for Leach.

"The fact that both sides asked for (a review) and the court asked for briefings on the merits says there's unsettled law," Tommy Turner said. "I think the court ought to recognize that there ought to be certain situations where a state agency can waive immunity by its actions."

In a separate case, Leach has also sued ESPN and a Dallas public relations firm, accusing them of libel and slander after he was fired. James is the son of ESPN analyst Craig James.