Kithiers line up lawyers, prepare lawsuit vs. MHSAA

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Ineligible high school basketball star Thomas Kithier and his family have hired two attorneys who are planning to file a lawsuit against the Michigan High School Athletic Association over its controversial transfer ruling.

Kithier transferred from Macomb Dakota to Clarkston for his senior season, but Dakota refused to sign off on the transfer, claiming the move was athletically motivated. The MHSAA agreed, and an appeal was upheld, benching Kithier for the entire season.

Kithier will play next season for Tom Izzo and Michigan State.

His family announced Saturday it has hired high-profile attorneys Ven Johnson and Steven Fishman. Johnson, in an interview with The News, said he met with the Kithiers — Thomas and his parents, Jane and Karl — for about three hours Saturday, and plans to file a lawsuit as early as next week and certainly within the next two. Johnson said he also will seek a temporary restraining order and is considering a lawsuit against Macomb Dakota, as well.

The MHSAA declined to comment through a spokesman.

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"Dakota’s gross misconduct has threatened Thomas’ ability to attend Clarkston High, the school of his choice, simply because they would be losing their star basketball player," Johnson, known as Geoffrey Fieger's longtime law partner, said in a statement. "A high-school senior and legal adult should be allowed to attend school anywhere he or she wants.

"Whether that includes playing basketball, volleyball, being a member of the marching band or of the drama club is completely irrelevant."

Fishman said in a statement: "If the MHSAA's arbitrary and capricious decision is allowed to stand Thomas will be irreparably harmed. Ven Johnson and I are investigating every legal option available to Thomas and his family and will be moving forward immediately. This young man deserves all the fruits of his hard work and dedication."

In August, Kithier, a 6-foot-9 forward who turned 18 in June, moved from his family's home in Macomb into an apartment in Clarkston as he enrolled in the new district. His family said its move was delayed by a death in the family, but the Kithiers made the move recently and their Macomb home is for sale.

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Michigan is a school-of-choice state, but that's for academics. If a student is believed to have moved for athletic reasons, and the former school protests, the MHSAA investigates and rules. The MHSAA said it gets between two and three complaints a year, and some are upheld. Not all of them make headlines, however, because not all of them involve star athletes signed to play for a national-powerhouse collegiate program.

The MHSAA ruled there was enough evidence that Kithier made the move for athletic reasons, citing his media statements about his desire to play alongside longtime AAU teammate and future Michigan State teammate Foster Loyer at Clarkston.

But Johnson said Kithier has been considering other school options for the past two or three years, including highly regarded prep schools in Indiana (La Lumiere) and Florida (Montverde Academy), making visits to both, as well as other high schools in the area.

"They all are angry they're missing their star basketball player," Johnson said of Dakota, in speaking to The News. "This is total (expletive)."

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Clarkston officials — from coach Dan Fife all the way to the district's superintendent — have blasted the MHSAA's ruling, while Chippewa Valley Schools, the umbrella district under which Dakota falls, only has issued a statement defending itself. Chippewa Valley Schools officials have not responded to several requests for comment from The News. At a Chippewa Valley Schools board meeting Monday, the Kithiers attended and pleaded their case. Chippewa Valley Schools superintendent Ron Roberts said the district will not reverse its decision.

And even if Chippewa Valley Schools — under intense public scrutiny, especially since Dakota athletic programs have benefited from transfers in recent years — were to reverse course and sign off on the transfer waiver, the MHSAA said its ruling would stand.

"The administration of Macomb Dakota/Chippewa Valley Schools has stated that if they had taken any other position than it has, that would be untruthful," MHSAA spokesman John Johnson told The News earlier in the week. "Furthermore, the athletic motivated transfer regulation states that, even if the student’s circumstances subsequently satisfy one of the exceptions to the transfer rule, the student remains ineligible for 180 scheduled school days."

Clarkston is the defending Class A state boys basketball champion, and is the No. 1-ranked team in the state by The News.