Eddie Christian Jr., a Fort Smith-based attorney, said Wednesday he had subpoenaed Arkansas football coach Houston Nutt and Teresa Prewett, the author of a disparaging e-mail to former Arkansas quarterback Mitch Mustain. He also has subpoenaed the hard drives of both individuals' computers, seeking to find information regarding their correspondence around the time the e-mail was sent.
The University of Arkansas issued a statement Wednesday, calling the lawsuit "frivolous" and decrying the university resources the lawsuit could require.
"Although the defendants have not yet been formally served with court papers, we strongly believe that this is a frivolous lawsuit having no merit whatsoever, and the University will defend against it vigorously," the statement said.
University officials had no further comment because of the impending litigation.
Christian, an Arkansas graduate who has also been a season-ticket holder for football, disagreed with the university position. He claims University of Arkansas Chancellor John White failed to properly investigate whether there were improper contacts between Prewett, Nutt and running backs coach Danny Nutt.
The three exchanged an increased volume of phone calls and text messages around the time of Prewett's e-mail to Mustain. Prewett has publicly stated that those correspondences were because of an impending death in Nutt's family. Nutt's mother-in-law died on Dec. 7.
White and University of Arkansas System President B. Alan Sugg are named as the two defendants in the lawsuit, which was filed in Washington County. Sugg is named because the lawsuit alleges that no taxpayer dollars should be spent on White's salary unless an independent investigation takes place. Sugg is White's boss.
Christian said White should have investigated more extensively because Prewett had a known personal relationship with both Nutt brothers. Prewett, a Little Rock physical therapist, helped Danny Nutt rehabilitate after he had brain surgery in 1998.
In a Jan. 18 response to Mustain's mother, Beck Campbell, White revealed that a large portion of the investigation was carried out by Houston Nutt and Arkansas Athletic Director Frank Broyles. White also wrote, "Based upon my review of this matter, I do not believe that Coach Houston Nutt has a close personal relationship with Ms. Prewett as you suggest."
Christian defiantly commented Wednesday about White's characterization of the relationship between Prewett and Houston Nutt.
"That just shows he didn't do his job, didn't look into it enough," Christian said.
On the 24th page of the 41-page lawsuit, the following statement appears:
"For reasons unknown to the Plantiff, Chancellor White has acted with deliberate indifference in refusing to conduct a probe into this specific incident, which occurred between a close friend of the Nutt family and a student-athlete. The attacks and threats which Chancellor White described as 'filth' and which he claimed would not be 'tolerated' have not truly been investigated."
Christian filed the lawsuit on behalf of John David Terry, a 42-year-old resident of Mount Ida, in Washington County court. The University of Arkansas now has 20 days to formally respond to the court.
Fayetteville Judge Mark Lindsay is in charge of overseeing the case and eventually scheduling a hearing date.
Byron Freeland, Nutt's attorney, told The Associated Press that the lawsuit is "totally without any legal basis."
The lawsuit alleges 1) breach of contract, 2) breach of fiduciary (trustworthy) duty and 3) waste or misuse of public funds. It also seeks a court order to "conduct a good faith, full, complete, and independent investigation into the incidents of harassment committed by Teresa Prewett and directed toward Mitch Mustain."
As for legal merit, Christian cited all three of the stated counts, and said the lawsuit should stand up in court.
He admitted the NCAA has never stated verbatim that schools were required to conduct independent investigations. But he said the circumstances surrounding the Prewett e-mail and her discovered correspondences with the Nutt brothers "beg for an independent investigation."
The NCAA didn't return several calls Wednesday seeking clarification on the protocol schools must follow for internal investigations. Arkansas compliance director Marvin Caston said he couldn't comment, even on general compliance and procedural issues.
Christian, speaking by phone from his Fort Smith office, didn't hide his affection for the Razorbacks. He used his interest in University of Arkansas athletics to further emphasize the seriousness of their complaints.
"I have been a huge fan," said Christian, who has represented several Arkansas athletes during his legal career. "I have two degrees from the U of A. I've bled Razorback red my entire life. ... I'm a lifelong fan, and when your own loyal, longtime fans are taking actions against you, maybe you should look up and look around to see if you're doing something inappropriately."
Included in 146 pages of discovery evidence Christian submitted were Arkansas' student handbook, the NCAA's manual, Houston Nutt's contract and third-amendment employment agreement, several newspaper reports and columns, e-mail, university documents and cell phone records.
Christian said inaction by the university had driven him and Terry to act. Christian said Terry doesn't wish to speak with the media.
Christian and Terry have known one another since the late 1980s.
"Mr. Terry and I have been talking about this matter amongst ourselves and with others for some time," Christian said. "We've been watching it unfold, watching nothing get done, watching no real investigation take place."
"The frustration has been building up, and there came a point in time when we figured we needed to do something about it."
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