Ex-MSU staffer's latest lawsuit vs. Mark Dantonio says he helped 'dig up dirt' for smear campaign

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

A lawyer for a former Michigan State football staff member has thrown out the playbook, switched up opponents, and even changed venues.

Curtis Blackwell has filed yet another lawsuit against his  ex-boss, former football coach Mark Dantonio, and also is suing Dantonio's lawyer and the law firm Michigan State hired to investigate the athletic department's handling of sexual-assault allegations.

Blackwell's lawyer, Andrew Paterson, claims in the case, which was filed late Saturday night in federal court in Detroit that Dantonio and his lawyer conspired to "dig up dirt" on Blackwell during a previous federal case, and that the Jones Day law firm served as "agents" for Michigan State in smearing Blackwell's reputation in its reporting clearing MSU of any wrongdoing in the wake of two sexual-assault allegations in 2017.

Curtis Blackwell's latest lawsuit names former MSU football coach Mark Dantonio, attorney Thomas Kienbaum, the law firm Jones Day, and the firm's attorney Louis Gabel as defendants.

The case names Dantonio and his lawyer, Thomas Kienbaum, as well as Jones Day and Jones Day lawyer Louis Gabel as defendants.

This is the fourth suit brought by Blackwell, two of which remain ongoing. The main one, which alleged wrongful termination by Dantonio, former MSU president Lou Anna K. Simon and former athletic director Mark Hollis, was dismissed in mid-May, a federal judge in Grand Rapids ruling Blackwell's attorneys used an unnecessarily exhaustive discovery period to build their case for another suit, which remains pending in state court. The judge also chided Blackwell's lawyers for unethical behavior, specifically with filings, and particularly Paterson, who twice was sanctioned and recommended for further discipline.

The federal case against two MSU Police detectives, for wrongful arrest, remains ongoing, though Blackwell has been ordered to find new legal representation. Paterson and Thomas Warnicke were ordered off that case by a federal judge. Blackwell is seeking more than $500,000 in damages from the police.

Warnicke remains Blackwell's lawyer for the state case, which alleges racial discrimination as for the reason of Blackwell's dismissal by Dantonio.

Only Paterson's name was on the most recent filing.

The Jones Day law firm was hired in 2017 by Michigan State, charged with determining if the athletic department appropriately handled allegations of sexual assault by three football players at a 2017 party.

In April 2017, a second sexual-assault allegation, against troubled MSU football recruit Auston Robertson, was added to Jones Day's investigation. Blackwell, the co-founder of Sound Mind Sound Body who was hired by Dantonio in 2013 to lead recruiting efforts, declined to speak with Jones Day's investigators, citing his First Amendment rights.

In June 2017, less than two weeks after Blackwell was let go by MSU, the Jones Day report was released, clearing Dantonio and all other MSU officials, except for Blackwell, whom it said did not follow university protocols when he didn't report his conversations with student-athletes, following the first sexual assault, to the Office of Institutional Equity and MSU Police.

Blackwell has insisted he was made the scapegoat by a university eager to be looked at in the public as proactive, under the shadow of the Larry Nassar scandal. Blackwell was the only staff member dismissed as a result of the sexual-assault allegations. The four players also were dismissed, with three catching on at other schools, and one, Robertson, now serving 10 years in an Upper Peninsula prison.

"Defendants Jones Day and Gabel were clearly acting as agents of MSU," Paterson wrote of Jones Day, one of the world's largest firms, with operations in 18 countries, including one in Detroit.

In regard to Dantonio and Kienbaum, who also represented Simon and Hollis in the dismissed federal case, Blackwell lays the claim that they worked together to try to dig up dirt on him.

Paterson cites Kienbaum's comments to MLive, saying Blackwell was "trying to peddle his camp to Rutgers and Maryland at a time when he was still on the payroll of Michigan State.”

Kienbaum made those comments after Blackwell's lawyers had revealed in court filings allegations of NCAA violations committed by Dantonio, including that he allowed Blackwell to go with him on off-campus home visits, and that Dantonio secured employment for parents of high-profile recruits.

"Defendant Kienbaum conspired with Defendant Dantonio to retaliate against the Plaintiff," wrote Paterson, adding that the damage to his reputation has cost him other college jobs, including, according to the latest filing, one overture from Kansas coach Les Miles.

It's not clear how much money Blackwell is seeking in his latest lawsuit.

Messages left by The News for Paterson, Kienbaum and Gabel were not immediately returned Sunday.


Twitter: @tonypaul1984