Trial needed in Kramer claims of slander

HELENA, Mont. -- A District Court judge has dismissed former Montana State football coach Mike Kramer's claims that the university breached its contract with him when he was fired in May 2007.

But District Judge Kathy Seeley ruled on Jan. 8 that Kramer's claims that the school slandered, libeled and portrayed him in a false light are matters for a jury to decide. His lawsuit claims his reputation was damaged as was his ability to get another coaching job. A trial date will be scheduled on Jan. 25.

"We are pleased coach Kramer will have his day in court," his attorney, Triel Culver of Billings, said in an e-mail.

Kramer filed a lawsuit in December 2007 alleging MSU fired him under the "without cause" part of his contract and then proceeded to give reasons for his firing, including the legal troubles of former players.

In a press release announcing Kramer's firing, athletics director Peter Fields said: "I believe there is something broken with our football program, and we need to take decisive steps to fix it." The press release also said the program's troubles pointed to a "crisis in leadership."

Kramer's lawsuit also alleged that school officials continued to make such statements in the following weeks.

Montana State filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it fulfilled the terms of the contract by paying Kramer for the remainder of the contract. Seeley agreed. She also wrote that there was "nothing in the contract precluding or disallowing a subsequent public statement of reasons for a 'without cause' termination."

Seeley also ruled in favor of MSU in Kramer's claim that the school made promises to him to stay at MSU beyond the 2006 season, including a three-year contract extension. Seeley said only preliminary negotiations had taken place and Kramer had been promised nothing.

Seeley also granted MSU motions to drop the university's athletics director and president, the state Board of Regents and the commissioner of higher education as defendants.

MSU's attorney, Cal Stacey of Billings, could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.