State judge dismisses lawsuit over e-mail critical of Mustain

Updated: June 4, 2007, 7:49 PM ET
Associated Press

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- A state judge dismissed a lawsuit Monday against University of Arkansas officials over an e-mail critical of former Arkansas quarterback Mitch Mustain.

Washington County Circuit Judge Mark Lindsay ruled in the case brought by John David Terry of Mount Ida, who claimed that public money was misused because university Chancellor John A. White had Arkansas football coach Houston Nutt investigate the e-mail.

"I have not been shown any reason that a state court should interfere in the administration of the football program or athletic program," the judge said after hearing arguments in the case.

Terry sued White and university system President B. Alan Sugg, alleging that White should not have had Nutt investigate the e-mail because it was sent to Mustain by Razorbacks booster Teresa Prewett, a friend of Nutt's family. Terry also said White was obligated to follow NCAA rules. One rule cited in the plaintiff's complaint says a school must maintain a positive relationship with its athletes.

The judge dismissed Terry's claims of breach of contract and breach of fiduciary responsibility, saying the court didn't have jurisdiction in those matters. He also dismissed Terry's claims that actions taken by university officials amounted to an illegal exaction and that the court should order more investigating. But on those two points, the judge left Terry's attorney 20 days to amend and refile the lawsuit.

Eddie Christian Jr., a Fort Smith attorney representing Terry, said he wasn't yet sure whether he would amend his filing.

Both Terry and White appeared in the Fayetteville courtroom with their attorneys, and they declined comment on the judge's ruling as they left the courthouse.

Mustain started eight games for the Razorbacks last season, but left the team after offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, his former high school coach at Springdale, left Arkansas to take a job at Tulsa. Mustain is now at Southern California.

Mustain's departure has contributed to a firestorm in Arkansas. Nutt eventually gave Prewett an official reprimand and barred her from the sidelines during games. He has said he did not initially know about the e-mail, but some fans have speculated otherwise.

Nutt's cell phone records have been obtained by fans and media under Arkansas' Freedom of Information Act, and Terry's lawsuit notes contact among Nutt, his brother and running backs coach Danny Nutt and Prewett around the time Mustain received the e-mail.

Nutt has been subpoenaed in Terry's lawsuit, but his deposition was put on hold and Monday's hearing was scheduled to hear pending motions in the case. Although Christian has 20 days to refile the suit, discovery won't be allowed to proceed during that time period.

Monday's hearing lasted nearly three hours, with a brief break before Lindsay returned with his ruling. Attorney Woody Bassett did most of the speaking on White's behalf.

Bassett said White did investigate the e-mail, but that the chancellor is under no obligation "to investigate an e-mail in a manner that satisfies every taxpayer."

"If there was ever a case that ought to be tossed out of court, it's this one," Bassett said.

Christian said the case was about public officials not wanting to be held responsible for their performance.

"They don't want any accountability," Christian said. "They don't want to be asked to perform their duties under the NCAA regulations."

The importance of NCAA regulations became a crucial issue, and Lindsay sided with the university, citing a past case involving former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian.

"The NCAA constitution, rules and regulations ... are not state law, according to the United States Supreme Court," Lindsay said.

Arkansas had argued in its motion for dismissal that Sugg and White should be immune from the lawsuit, and Lindsay dismissed two of the counts on jurisdictional grounds.

"This is not the 'People's Court' like you see on TV. This is not, 'Have you been wronged? Take them to court,'" Lindsay said. "Courts can only hear what they have jurisdiction to hear."

At one point in his oral argument, Christian read from Prewett's e-mail to Mustain, and the judge agreed that it was "despicable." But Lindsay appears swayed by the defense's argument that his court is no place for the matter to be discussed.

"It belongs on an Internet message board or in a chat room," Bassett said. "Not in a court room."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press