Judge: MSU coach Dantonio must sit for seven-hour deposition, with no questions off-limits

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Mark Dantonio

In sports terms, Mark Dantonio went .500 on Tuesday.

A federal judge in West Michigan ruled that the Michigan State head football coach can wait until after the season ends to be deposed by attorneys for a former staff member who's suing over wrongful termination.

But Dantonio also lost his bid to limit the length and scope of the deposition, the judge saying he must sit for seven hours and can be asked any questions.

That includes questions Dantonio's lawyers tried to make off-limits, specifically about the recruitment of star defensive lineman Auston Robertson — Blackwell said Dantonio was warned repeatedly about Robertson's troubles in high school, signed him anyway, and Robertson now is serving up to 10 years in prison for sexual assault — as well as the Larry Nassar scandal that rocked the university.

More: Ex-MSU staffer alleges school 'manufactured' report to clear Mark Dantonio of wrongdoing

Blackwell, in his suit filed in November, insists he was made the scapegoat following an on-campus party in January 2017 at which three Michigan State players allegedly had inapporpriate sexual conduct with a woman. The three players were dismissed from the team and eventually pled down and are on probation while playing football elsewhere. Blackwell, meanwhile, was let go in May 2018, and says it was because the university was feeling the heat from the Nassar fallout.

Dantonio has repeatedly said Blackwell was let go over "philosphical differences," and that Robertson had nothing to do with Blackwell's dismissal and therefore should not be a point of discussion during his deposition.

Judge Ellen S. Carmody, in her ruling Tuesday, disagreed with Dantonio's lawyers.

Robertson was the whistleblower on the party in January 2017, and accused three months later of sexual assault. He's serving his sentence in the Upper Peninsula.

Blackwell is suiing Dantonio, former athletic director Mark Hollis and former president Lou Anna K. Simon in one lawsuit, and two MSU Police officers in another, for wrongful arrest. He's seeking up to $5.5 million from the police, and an unknown amount from Dantonio, Hollis and Simon.

Hollis and Simon also have yet to be deposed, though the judge ruled Tuesday that they, too, must be made available for seven hours, and can be questioned about Robertson and Nassar.

Blackwell's attorneys have wanted to first depose Dantonio.

That could happen as early as January, after Michigan State's season. He'll have to sit for up to seven hours; his lawyers had requested that be capped at 3 1/2.

Blackwell's lawyers also have requested to depose Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh, who showed some interest in hiring Blackwell, the co-founder of the Sound Mind Sound Body football camps, away from rival Michigan State. That led to a big raise at Michigan State for Blackwell, who was making $129,000 when he was let go.

More: Blackwell: Dantonio was warned about Auston Robertson as MSU recruit

Both MSU police officers who arrested Blackwell in February 2018, detectives Chad Davis and Sam Miller, recently were deposed by Blackwell's attorneys.

Davis' deposition transcript — in which he alleged Blackwell kept pivotal information from police after the January 2017 party, leading to a significant lag between the arrest of the first suspect and the other two, and allowed time for one of the suspects to delete information from his cell phone — was briefly made public Friday in a filing by Blackwell's attorneys, even though he apparently was told it wouldn't be.

Carmody fined one of Blackwell's lawyers, Andrew Paterson, $10,000, for the oversight, then sealed Davis' deposition — though that won't keep it completely private, given that it's already been downloaded by multiple media members, including The Detroit News. Miller's deposition transcript has not been made public, though Blackwell's has been.

"Don't agree with the sanction," Blackwell's other lawyer, Tom Warnicke, told The News.


Twitter: @tonypaul1984