U considers lawsuit against Haskins to recover payment

by Kristin Gustafson

University attorneys sent a letter to former men’s basketball coach Clem Haskins through his lawyer Wednesday that could lead to a University lawsuit against him.
General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said the University might have reason to pursue recovery of payments made to Haskins last June as part of a $1.5 million exit agreement.
Rotenberg would not comment on the legal theory prompting the letter. However, he did say part of the legal theory the University might use makes it advisable to put Haskins on notice “that some of the information we relied upon may turn out not to be true.”
Criticism against the University’s lack of legal action grew after results of the University’s men’s basketball academic misconduct investigation blamed Haskins of wrongdoing.
At that time and since then, many have argued Haskins should not keep a portion of this severance money if it was fraudulently induced.
Given Rotenberg’s description of the letter, breach of contract appears to be the most obvious legal theory said Minneapolis attorney Mark Anfinson, who is the lawyer for The Minnesota Daily.
He said if the University takes this action, it must prove the University entered a deal where some information was misrepresented and the University was harmed as a result.
Anfinson added that a contract — such as a severance or separation agreement — might include a provision requiring some kind of notification before moving forward with a lawsuit.
“It wouldn’t be surprising … to allow the other party notice to correct the breach,” he said.
Jan Symchych, head of the White Collar Crime and Civil Fraud group at the Dorsey and Whitney law firm, said based on Rotenberg’s description of the letter, “there may be a reason to believe Haskins defrauded the University.”
She added, “if that is the underlying basis for this letter, the University would have to prove Haskins was deliberately dishonest with the University.”
University President Mark Yudof said Thursday the letter’s point was to keep University options open should it decide to bring cause of action against Haskins. However, he would not confirm or deny any specific impending action.
Yudof said he was not optimistic about the success of a fraud lawsuit because of the lack of credible witnesses and the level of proof required to show the contract’s termination was fraudulently induced.
“Convincing the University investigators is different than convincing jurors,” and more difficult, Yudof said.
But putting Haskins’ attorney on notice preserves the University’s options for any future legal action, Yudof said.
Rotenberg said if the University files legal action against Haskins, it will be made public.
“We’ll be careful, but we won’t wait forever,” he said. “But, if and when we do proceed, we will have every intention of prevailing completely.”

Kristin Gustafson covers University administration and federal government and welcomes comments at [email protected]