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Testimony ends in Neuheisel case
Seattle Times staff reporter
KENT - Hamstrung by a judge's ruling over a major error in the discovery process, the NCAA today shut down its defense in the Rick Neuheisel trial.
Today, attorneys and King County Superior Court judge Michael Spearman will discuss jury instructions, a key component to the case. Monday, the three sides - Neuheisel's, the University of Washington, and the NCAA - will present closing arguments. The trial is in its fifth week.
Testimony was cut short after an error in discovery came to light last Friday. Attorneys for the NCAA, defending against the former UW football coach's claim of tortious interference with his contract, realized that wording of an NCAA bylaw regarding prior notice to an interviewee about the subject matter had changed in April of 2003.
NCAA attorneys had provided other counsel in the case the old wording - more favorable to the NCAA - and all discovery, depositions and testimony had been on the basis of it. Monday, Spearman held out the possibility of a mistrial when the 12-person jury reaches its verdict, and Tuesday, he ruled that NCAA testimony on the subject must be limited and that only Neuheisel's counsel would be able to broach the topic.
That put lead NCAA attorney John Aslin in the position of risking more testimony that the NCAA hadn't followed its own rules when it questioned Neuheisel about auction pools on June 4, 2003. Several key NCAA figures in the case thus didn't testify live, among them gambling chief Bill Saum, enforcement officer Dave Didion and president Myles Brand. All three had testified via videotape, called by Neuheisel's lead attorney, Bob Sulkin.
The NCAA thus called only two mid-level staffers, plus Brand's assistant and vice president for enforcement services, David Price.
Today, there were two rebuttal witnesses - Neuheisel and Lee Huntsman, acting UW president at the time of Neuheisel's dismissal from the UW in 2003. Neuheisel seeks wrongful-termination damages from the UW in addition to the NCAA claim.
Neuheisel's side tried to establish doubt that Huntsman had given him a verbal admonition at the end of the week in February, 2003, when Neuheisel lied repeatedly about having interviewed for the San Francisco 49ers' vacancy.
Huntsman says he has a "very strong memory" of having had such a conversation with Neuheisel Feb. 13 or 14, 2003. The Seattle Times of Feb. 15, 2003 quoted Huntsman as saying he had rebuked Neuheisel, and in earlier testimony, former Neuheisel aide Liz Zelinski testified they had talked before Neuheisel left for Hawaii Feb. 14.
Yesterday, defense attorney Cyrus Vance produced Neuheisel's cell-phone records of Feb. 14, 2003, showing no calls from Huntsman before Neuheisel and his wife left for Hawaii. It was there that Neuheisel and Huntsman had a beach walk Feb. 28 at which Huntsman contends he told Neuheisel there was "no slack left" if he wanted to remain football coach at the UW.
Both NCAA investigators who questioned Neuheisel on June 4, 2003 testified yesterday. Lori Williams was called by the NCAA, and Rachel Newman by Neuheisel's side.
Sulkin revisited a prominent theme throughout the trial, the contention that Neuheisel was ambushed by NCAA questioning. He reinforced with Williams the revision in the NCAA bylaw found only last week, and with Newman, how one side of NCAA audiotapes of the Neuheisel interviews yielded no conversation.
E-mails from Newman to Saum at that time reflected her dismay at the blank tape. In one, she called it "a huge problem." Saum replied, "Go have a beer or 2."
Sulkin introduced another e-mail from Newman to Saum intended to show that the UW was delaying a decision on Neuheisel's termination because of a faulty compliance memo that had surfaced.
On the subject of the UW seeking to know whether Neuheisel had committed a violation despite the memo, Newman wrote to Saum: "I tried all weekend to convince them this would be a waste of time, but I think the legal counsel is being pushed by the (UW) president."
Huntsman has testified he essentially made the decision to fire Neuheisel before then, the morning after the NCAA questioning of Neuheisel.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
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