Three Minnesota Supreme Court justices recuse themselves from Jimmy Williams case

by Andrew Krammer

Due to some form of connection to the University of Minnesota, three of the Minnesota Supreme Court’s seven justices have opted not to hear the case of would-be basketball coach Jimmy Williams — but three of the remaining four also have ties to the U, according to the Star Tribune.

The three justices who backed out – Chief Justice Lorie Gildea, Alan Page and David Stras, have all attended, worked at or were closely affiliated with the University. But, according to Minnesota statutes, the justices are not required to explain why when disqualifying themselves from a case.

Gildea worked under University general counsel Mark Rotenberg from 1993-2004, Page – a former Minnesota Vikings player – attended law school at the U as well as served on the Board of Regents from 1989 to 1993. Stras was a member of the U law faculty from 2004 to 2010.

Of the justices hearing the case, the most concerning for Williams' attorney is Justice Paul H. Anderson, who still lectures and actively contributes to the University and has already issued orders in the case.

“To learn about the significant relationship between the University and the justice who has issued orders and will participate in deciding the case is perplexing,” Williams’ attorney, Donald Chance Mark Jr., told the Star Tribune. “I'm not sure what to make of it yet.”

Justice Paul Anderson’s ties to the University are similar to others still hearing the case – a U law graduate with a record of donating to the law school. However, he is the only active contributor to the University.

Oral arguments have not been scheduled in a case that has made its way to the highest level of the state’s judicial system.

Last fall, the Minnesota Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a Hennepin County jury’s May 2010 verdict that head U basketball coach Tubby Smith misrepresented his authority in 2007 by offering an assistant coaching spot to Williams.

Williams resigned from a similar position at Oklahoma State before Gophers Athletic Director Joel Maturi trumped Smith’s offer, leaving Williams unemployed.

“I have confidence in our justice system,” Mark said. “And I expect that Mr. Williams will be treated by the Supreme Court as fairly as he has been by the trial court, the Hennepin County jury and the Court of Appeals.”