The legal team for former Michigan State football staffer Curtis Blackwell has added what might be the equivalent of a four-star recruit.
High-profile attorney Tom Mars, known for his work on NCAA cases and, most notably locally, gaining immediate eligibility for quarterback Shea Patterson at Michigan, is consulting on the case and plans to be in court if the case makes it to trial.
Mars joins lead lawyers Tom Warnicke and Drew Paterson.
"He's a great and experienced sports attorney," Paterson said in an email.
Previous high-profile clients for Mars, who is based out of Atlanta and northwest Arkansas, include Walmart, then-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former First Lady Hillary Clinton.
But Mars recently made a name in sports circles for working transfer-waiver cases, including helping quarterback Justin Fields gain immediate eligibility at Ohio State after he transferred from Georgia, as well as his work suing Ole Miss on behalf of fired coach Houston Nutt. Last year, he was appointed to the NCAA's new "Complex Case Unit."
A recent development in the Blackwell case are allegations Mark Dantonio, while Michigan State football coach, committed multiple NCAA violations, including securing jobs for the parents of two high-profile football recruits, as well as allowing Blackwell to attend a recruit's house visit when Blackwell wasn't authorized to recruit off-campus.
Those allegations were detailed in a court filing in Grand Rapids late Monday night. Hours later, Tuesday afternoon, Dantonio retired as Michigan State's football coach.
Mars said he has been following the Blackwell wrongful-termination case, which dates to November 2018, "since the very beginning." He said he has occasionally conferred with his lawyers before recently coming aboard.
"I've also reviewed certain sworn testimony in the case and other key evidence, some of which MSU is probably not yet aware of," Mars told The News on Thursday. "Based on my objective assessment of the merits of Curtis' claims, I've recently agreed to join his legal team. I didn't make that decision lightly, and I wouldn't have done so if there had been any doubt in my mind about who was being truthful and who wasn't."
"Fortunately for Curtis, this is one of those rare situations where irrefutable evidence will settle that question once and for all."
Despite his work with the NCAA, for whom he's on standby and not compensated unless a case comes up, Mars said there is no conflict of interest in this case. He said his role in this case will be limited to civil litigation, and that he won't represent Blackwell in anything related to the NCAA.
Dantonio insisted the Blackwell lawsuit had "zero" to do with his decision to step down after 13 seasons, and athletic director Bill Beekman, who wasn't athletic director at the time of the time of the alleged NCAA violations, called the claims "false."
Blackwell, Michigan State's recruiting coordinator from 2013 until his contract wasn't renewed in 2017, is suing Dantonio, former president Lou Anna K. Simon and former athletic director Mark Hollis, saying he was wrongfully terminated in May 2017 as part of the fallout from an on-campus party four months earlier at which three football players allegedly sexually assaulted a woman.
He's also suing two MSU Police detectives, for up to $5.5. million, for wrongful arrest. Blackwell never was charged in the case.
Blackwell, Dantonio, Hollis, Simon, the police detectives and several others have sat for depositions in the case, leading to a lengthy discovery period in the case — as well as lots of public allegations toward Dantonio and MSU, as Blackwell has tried to peel back on the onion on some questionable recruiting practices that went on during his time at East Lansing, including Dantonio accepting troubled Auston Robertson.
Dantonio's lawyers, who will continue to be paid for by the university even after his retirement announcement, have called the case a "sham" and have asked for dismissal.