Judge Halts Leach's Lawsuit

By: Alicia Keene and Abigail Arroyos

Former Texas Tech Football Head Coach Mike Leach

Sept. 19, 2013, marked the official halt of Mike Leach’s almost four-year legal battle surrounding his firing from Texas Tech University.

The former Tech football head coach sued public relations firm Spaeth Communications, Inc., ESPN, Inc. and Craig James, a former ESPN sports commentator, for alleged libel and slander in 2010, after he had earlier sued Tech separately for wrongful termination. Leach’s lawsuit against Tech was dismissed in February.

Lubbock County’s 99th District Court heard motions for summary judgment from each of the three private defendants on May 22, according to court documents.

“Defendants’ counsel have presented us with a proposed Order, however, there are several issues which must be worked out prior to approval and submission to the Court,” Ted Liggett, Leach’s Lubbock lawyer, said in an Aug. 13 letter to Judge William Sowder.

Summary judgment is a judgment made without a case going to trial based on depositions, affidavits or other evidence that persuades the court that there is no arguable issue requiring a trial.

Sowder signed the final judgment on Leach’s defamation lawsuit last Thursday. Photo of Craig James on ESPN around the time Leach was fired from Texas Tech. Photo Credit to an article by Andrew Buchholtz on the Awful Announcing website. According to the final judgment, Sowder granted each defendant’s motion for summary judgment in its entirety. Sowder did not provide any reasons for his ruling, but typically trial judges issue such orders without explaining their reasons.

Additionally, the judgment stated Leach will not receive anything from the defendants, but he must repay the defendants’ legal expenses. The defendants could not be reached for comment on how much their legal expenses were.

Leach, who just entered his second season as the head football coach at Washington State University, has until Oct. 19 to file an appeal to the Seventh Court of Appeals of Texas in Amarillo, according to a court official.

Leach’s attorney, Stephen Heninger, said Leach is planning to dispute the judgment.

“We will be appealing this to the Texas Court of Appeals,” Heninger said. “We feel pretty good about our chances.”

Bill Stevens, the associate director of athletics in Washington State University’s athletic communications department, handles all interviews regarding Leach.

“He’s not talking about it. He said he doesn’t feel it’s done yet. So, he’s not discussing it,” Stevens said.

According to media reports, Tech fired Leach in 2009 after Craig James complained Leach mistreated his son, Adam James, a former Tech tight end, while he was injured with a concussion.

Leach filed a suit against Tech for allegedly violating his due process rights, among other claims, including wrongful termination and breach of contract. Judge Sowder threw out all of Leach’s claims against Tech, except breach of contract. The Amarillo Seventh Court of Appeals ruled against Leach on all of his claims, except to allow him to go forward on his due process claim, but the appeals court ruled he could not win any money from Tech because of the university’s sovereign immunity. The Texas Supreme Court declined to hear any appeals. Leach’s final due process claim was dismissed by Judge Sowder in February, and Leach chose not to appeal.

Ronny Wall, associate general counsel for Tech, said he does not think Tech asked Leach to pay legal expenses in Leach’s previous lawsuit against the university. He said Tech’s legal expenses were minimal because the university’s attorneys worked pro bono.

“The attorney general represented us in the actual lawsuit, so even though there was a lot of attorneys involved on our side, there wasn’t a whole lot of attorneys’ fees-type expense,” Wall said, “which is what adds up pretty quickly.” Wall could not immediately say how much Tech paid for private attorneys to represent some of Tech’s regents, who had also been sued by Leach.

Screenshot of the Breinbart News page with the story headline and photo of Craig James

Craig James ran in the 2012 Texas election for U.S. Senate, but he was defeated during the Republican primary.

Fox Sports Southwest announced the addition of Craig James to their college football analysis team on Aug. 30. James made one television appearance on Aug. 31 before he was fired the following day, Sept. 1.

On Monday, Sept. 23, Breitbart News, a conservative news website, reported Craig James alleged Fox Sports Southwest fired him for “his public stance on same-sex marriage.”

“I believe marriage is between one man and one woman, as ordained by God. I do not support the legalization of gay marriage,” James stated on his campaign website.

In a story published on Tuesday, SB Nation, a sports blog, stated that Fox Sports Southwest hired James, but executives at Fox Sports headquarters pursued his removal once they were notified of James’ hiring. Fox Sports denied James’ reasoning behind the termination.

“Mr. James, while both experienced and knowledgeable, is a polarizing figure in the college sports community. Regrettably, the decision to use him was not properly vetted, and as a result he will no longer provide commentary on Fox Sports Southwest’s college football coverage,” SB Nation quoted from a Fox Sports statement.

The SB Nation article claimed reactions to James installment at Fox Sports Southwest were not positive, and his unpopularity dates back to his time at ESPN.Screenshot of the SB Nation website with the story title and photo from Craig James' election campaign

“In addition to bringing little to the booth beyond tired clichés and obvious, mundane analysis, his credibility took a massive hit when he played a major role in getting former Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach fired,” the writer of the SB Nation article, Chris Fuhrmeister, stated.

James’ attorneys were unavailable for comment, and Tech representatives declined to comment on the SB Nation quote.

Chris Cook, managing director of communications and marketing at Tech, said it would be “inappropriate to comment” on SB Nation writer Chris Fuhrmeister’s opinion.

According to more recent media reports, a Plano, Texas, law firm representing James sent a letter to Fox Sports on Tuesday threatening legal action on the basis of religious discrimination if James is not rehired.

Attorneys for Spaeth Communications, ESPN and James could not be reached for comment.

About Abbie Arroyos and Alicia Keene
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