$1 million award to former U coach is upheld

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 19, 2011 - 12:59 AM

Court said Tubby Smith's authority was misrepresented in dealings with Oklahoma State's Jimmy Williams.

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Jimmy Williams (right) in May 2010

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

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Citing "extreme misrepresentation" by the University of Minnesota and head basketball coach Tubby Smith, the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld a $1 million award to would-be assistant coach Jimmy Williams for a rescinded job offer.

In a 21-page order, the court on Monday dismissed several arguments by Smith and the U that the 2010 jury verdict and award should be thrown out. The decision also rejected Williams' demand to restate the award to its original $1.25 million.

Williams' attorney, Donald Chance Mark Jr., called the ruling another step toward "seeking justice and the vindication of his good name."

U attorney Mark Rotenberg said his legal team is reviewing the decision and its options before deciding whether to appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

He pointed out the court's agreement with their stance that character evidence by "celebrity witnesses" Kevin McHale, former Rep. Jim Ramstad and former U basketball coach Jim Dutcher should not have been admissible. The Appeals Court ruled, however, that it wasn't prejudicial enough to grant a new trial.

Despite the order, Rotenberg said multiple assertions are up for debate, including why Williams would quit his job at Oklahoma State after being told the job at the U was in doubt.

"We also continue to disagree with the conclusion that the U must pay a million dollars in a case where this man had less than two years to run on a $160,000 a year contract at Oklahoma," Rotenberg said. "That's public money."

A Hennepin County jury concluded in May 2010 that Smith had misrepresented the extent of his authority in 2007 by offering an assistant coaching spot to Williams, leading him to resign from that same position at Oklahoma State. Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi later overruled Smith and nixed the offer to Williams because of NCAA violations during his earlier tenure as an assistant at Minnesota. Williams found himself unemployed and sued Smith.

The jury found that Smith falsely represented to Williams that he had final authority to hire assistant basketball coaches at Minnesota, that Smith failed to tell Williams of the limits of his hiring authority and that Williams was harmed.

"Even after Smith realized that he did not have the final authority over the hire and conveyed as much to Williams, Smith furthered the misrepresentation by continuing to discuss the upcoming recruiting trip that Williams was assigned to make," wrote Judge Renee Worke. She further described the actions as an "extensive misrepresentation."

Hennepin County District Judge Regina Chu, who presided at last year's trial, wrote then that, under state law, the liability of the state and its employees in civil court actions cannot exceed $300,000 or the amount of liability insurance, whichever is higher.

The university maintains a $1 million insurance policy covering claims of this nature, she wrote, so the $1.25 million jury award to Williams must be reduced to $1 million.

Rotenberg said they're still verifying whether the university's insurance policy will cover the $1 million judgment. Williams will not be paid pending the ongoing appeals process.

Mark said he and his client haven't yet decided whether to appeal the award reduction.

Mark said Williams is living in Houston and training NBA players during the off-season and during the lockout. He's hoping to get back into college or professional coaching.

"It's what he does best," Mark said. "He's very good at it and that's his hope."

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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