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Originally published January 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 30, 2008 at 2:40 PM

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Attorney Mike Hunsinger: key player in Huskies' defense

That Mike Hunsinger, a Seattle lawyer, represented at least 14 players on the University of Washington's 2000 football team is surprising...

Seattle Times staff reporters

That Mike Hunsinger, a Seattle lawyer, represented at least 14 players on the University of Washington's 2000 football team is surprising enough. What makes it more striking is the kind of work Hunsinger typically does.

Hunsinger mostly represents plaintiffs in civil cases, be it a medical-malpractice case against a hospital, a product-liability case against a manufacturer, or an escrow dispute involving a real-estate company. He also handles the occasional divorce.

"I'm not a big-shot criminal-defense lawyer," he said.

When it came to Husky players, almost all of Hunsinger's clients were facing criminal charges or under investigation..

Hunsinger's hourly rate, when he charges that way, is $330. At that rate, three hours of his time would have eclipsed what many players on the 2000 team received each month from their athletic scholarship's stipend.

But Hunsinger suspended his hourly rate — as he says he does for clients in all criminal cases — and fashioned a retainer to fit each player's case. "If I went to trial, it might be $2,000 or $3,000," he said. "But I never went to trial with any of these guys."

In some instances, Hunsinger said, he was able to get prosecutors to drop charges with just a phone call.

Client confidentiality keeps him from disclosing what any particular player paid, Hunsinger said. But each fee was in the hundreds of dollars, not thousands: "I charge them, and they pay me. Some of them take a hell of a long time to pay me, and I'm fine with that."

Under NCAA rules, football players could not receive special treatment or benefits from Hunsinger or any other lawyer. And they didn't, he said. "I charged them the same I would charge other people similarly situated who are not student athletes."

Hunsinger, who received his bachelor's degree from the UW, began representing Husky football players in 1993. That's when he helped sue the Pac-10, and later the NCAA, on behalf of the team, claiming the university had been improperly hit with a two-year bowl ban for violating NCAA rules.

Later, Hunsinger said, he received a telephone call, telling him some player was in trouble on a misdemeanor charge. Could he help out? Hunsinger assigned an associate to the case, and the charge was dismissed. More calls for help followed.

Five years ago, Hunsinger represented Keith Gilbertson and other UW football coaches when the NCAA investigated them for participating in small-dollar NCAA tournament betting pools.

He also represented the UW's director of football operations, Jerry Nevin, when the state found that Nevin violated ethics laws by accepting free flights on a booster's private jet.

Defending UW players against criminal charges may not bring in much money, but Hunsinger enjoys the work. He grew up here, he's a UW fan and he likes the "kids," as he calls them. "These are 19-year-old kids, being asked to act like adults," he said.

Since Tyrone Willingham became the UW's head football coach in December 2004, the calls to Hunsinger from football players have dropped off. Has he represented even one player since Willingham took over?

"I don't think so," he said. "And if I did, I wouldn't tell you."

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or nperry@seattletimes.com; Ken Armstrong: 206-464-3730 or karmstrong@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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