Curtis Blackwell's lawyers face Tuesday deadline to make argument why case should continue
Lawyers for Curtis Blackwell are facing a Tuesday deadline to make their case why the suit against former Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio and others should be allowed to continue.
Blackwell's lawyers were hit with a show-cause order by Judge Sally J. Berens after attorneys for Dantonio, ex-athletic director Mark Hollis and former president Lou Anna K. Simon have accused Blackwell's team of unethical behavior throughout the suit, which was filed in November 2018.
Lawyers for Dantonio and Co. say Blackwell's legal team — led by Thomas Warnicke, with Drew Paterson also on the team — has filed frivolous motions, refused to communicate with opposing counsel before filing motions, made unsubstantiated claims for the sole purpose of garnering media attention, and made public testimony that was supposed to be kept sealed.
Paterson, on the legal team since the fall, already has been fined $10,000 for attaching MSU Police Det. Chad Davis' transcript to a public motion, when both legal teams agreed to keep the transcript sealed. Paterson called it an honest, "expensive mistake," claiming he wasn't involved in talks to seal it.
Defense lawyers are requesting the judge issue additional monetary sanctions, suspend Paterson from practicing, and dismiss the case in its entirety.
"This sham should not be allowed to continue," Dantonio's lawyers wrote.
Berens will have several options once Warnicke and Paterson file their show-cause response, though complete dismissal is unlikely, legal experts say.
Another option, if Berens agrees there has been legal malpractice, is removing Blackwell's attorneys from the case and allowing a grace period for Blackwell to find new representation, or she could issue additional monetary sancations, or both.
Or she could disagree with the defense attorneys, do nothing at all and allow the case to continue as is. The discovery period, which the defense argues has been unnecessarily dragged out, is supposed to conclude by the end of this month, with sights set on a spring or early summer trial.
The case — Blackwell is suing Dantonio and Co. for wrongful termination, and two MSU Police detectives for wrongful termination — has taken a strange turn, with the drama shifting from Blackwell and Dantonio to the respective legal teams. Last week, high-profile attorney Tom Mars departed Blackwell's legal team over objections to conduct by Paterson, a little more than a week after Mars first joined the case.
Also, defense attorneys have turned their attention to Blackwell's finances, specifically from his Sound Mind Sound Body camp, which he co-founded and continues to run. Lawyers for the two MSU Police detectives are looking to show that he earns a comfortable living through SMSB, and his request for up to $5.5 million in damages over the wrongful-arrest claim are frivolous. Defense lawyers have subpoenaed numerous financial documents related to SMSB as well as Blackwell, personally. Blackwell has registered two Sound Mind Sound Body businesses, one a for-profit company and another a non-profit foundation.
Blackwell was running the popular SMSB when Dantonio hired him in the summer of 2013. He was on the job until May 2017, when his contract wasn't renewed over what Dantonio called "philosophical" differences, while later citing "friction" between Blackwell and the rest of the staff. Blackwell's departure came five months after an on-campus party led to the dismissal of three football players for an alleged sexual assault of a female. Blackwell was originally accused by police of obstructing the investigation.
MSU has denied that Blackwell's dismissal was tied to the sexual-assault investigation, though he was let go just days before outside investigators from the Jones Day law firm cleared every football staff member of wrongdoinng, with the exception of Blackwell.
Throughout the case, Blackwell has made a series of allegations toward MSU, the two biggest: that Dantonio, over the objections of his athletic director and several assistant coaches, took four-star defensive lineman Auston Robertson, despite his lengthy history of sexual misconduct (he's now in prison for up to 10 years for rape); and that Dantonio committed multiple NCAA violations, among them allowing Blackwell to recruit off-campus, as well as securing jobs for parents of high-profile recruits.
In his deposition, Dantonio acknowledged Blackwell was not allowed to recruit off-campus and said he never was aware he did. Also, Dantonio said all jobs went through the compliance department. Jennifer Smith, MSU's compliance director, in her deposition said she had no recollection of that.
The NCAA allegations were made public earlier this month, less than 24 hours before Dantonio suddenly retired after 13 years as coach. He said the case had "zero" to do with his decision.
Dantonio, Blackwell, Hollis, Simon and the police officers, among other MSU officials, are among those who have been deposed in the case, with only Blackwell's transcript being fully made public. Portions of Dantonio's have come out, and Davis' was public briefly until a judge ordered it sealed.
Lawyers for Blackwell also plan to depose Robertson, through written questions sent to prison in the Upper Peninsula, by the end of the month. Even Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has played a cameo in this case, and has agreed to give an affidavit about his interest in hiring Blackwell away from Michigan State.