Kent State continues legal battles with Geno Ford, Bradley University

Former men’s basketball coach Geno Ford left Kent State in Marcg 2011.

After years in court, Kent State University’s lawsuit against former basketball coach Geno Ford and Bradley University continues to make its way through the Portage County court system.

This August, Kent State filed an appeal on a 2015 lawsuit against Bradley University and Ford that stems from a 2011 contract dispute.

Kent State hired Ford as coach for the men’s basketball team in 2008 with a four-year contract and the option of extending his time into a possible fifth year. The contract established a damages clause, which would require payment equal to Ford’s remaining salary should either he or Kent State choose to exit their relationship before it had run its course.

After leading the Flashes to a Mid-American Conference title and being recognized as the MAC Coach of the Year in March 2010, Ford renegotiated a five-year contract one month later that increased his salary to $300,000 and left the damages clause in full effect. Ford’s new salary made him the highest-paid head basketball coach in the MAC.

The following year, he led the team to their second consecutive MAC title — a feat that hadn’t been accomplished since the early 1990s. Shortly after winning the MAC Coach of the Year award again, Ford began considering his next step.

According to court documents, Kent State’s Director of Athletics Joel Nielsen gave Ford permission to engage in conversations with Bradley University after communicating with Ford’s sports agent, Richard Giles. Nielsen agreed to allow Ford to talk with other programs once the basketball season had ended, but did not allow for contractual negotiations.

In March 2011, Ford met with Nielsen and representatives from Bradley to discuss the liquidated damages clause in his contract with Kent State and to negotiate a new contract with Bradley. The document states Ford proposed a deal to Nielsen: He would pay $600,000 to Kent State for breaking his contract.

Soon after, Ford signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Illinois-based university; Bradley offered Ford a base salary of $700,000, stated the college would pay $400,000 to Kent State to assist with the buyout from his contract and because of the litigating circumstances, the Memorandum of Understanding would become Ford’s contract with Bradley. He came on as coach of the team that month.

Kent State rejected the offer and demanded the full buyout price of $1.2 million. One month later, Kent State filed its initial lawsuit against Ford and Bradley in the Portage County Common Pleas Court on April 26, 2011.

They argued by ending his contract prematurely, Ford now owed the university the sum of his salary over the four remaining years, or $1.2 million, and cited the damages clause in his contract.

In July 2013, Portage County Judge John Enlow determined Ford was in breach of his contract and granted Kent State’s request for summary judgment against Ford. He ruled that Ford pay the full buyout of $1.2 million.

Kent State dropped a second individual lawsuit targeting Bradley University for tortious interference to their contract on Sept. 25, 2013; however, its case against Ford remained ongoing as Ford appealed Enlow’s 2013 decision in the court of appeals.

In January 2015, the 11th Ohio District Court of Appeals maintained the Portage County Common Pleas Court ruling. Judge Diane Grendell wrote the law “supports a conclusion that the liquidated damages provision was properly enforced by the lower court.” Ford and his legal team, led by Chad Murdock, attempted to take his appeal to the Supreme Court of Ohio, but the case was not accepted to the higher court’s docket.

While Ford was going through the process of appealing, Kent State decided to file a new suit against both Bradley University and Ford for tortious interference of contract, indemnification, third-party beneficiary contract, fraudulent transfer and civil conspiracy in 2015. Representatives for Kent State argued it had a contract with Ford, and Bradley interfered with it.

Judge Becky Doherty of the Portage County Court of Common Pleas found Bradley did not commit these acts and established Kent State as an incidental beneficiary, or a third party who unintentionally benefits from a contract between two other parties, not a third-party beneficiary, which has the right to sue without being an original active party in a contract. Under these circumstances, Doherty dismissed the case.

Not satisfied with the previous ruling, Kent State recently filed an appeal against Bradley on Aug. 25, 2017. Kent State attorney Larry Bach and Kent State’s Executive Director of Media Relations Eric Mansfield could not comment on “pending litigation.” Requests for comment from Bradley University’s attorneys were unreturned.

This new lawsuit also takes into account the court fees Kent State accumulated from these court proceedings.

Since the original case in 2011, Bach said Kent State has spent nearly $250,000 preparing for the trials and in court. Both Bach and Murdock, Ford’s representative, said Ford has been paying off the $1.2 million owed to Kent State via salary garnishments. It is unclear how much he has paid back at this time, or how much is coming out of his paychecks to go toward the sum he owes.

Murdock said before the court can proceed with the latest appeal, Kent State must file a brief and request the courts to set a date to begin re-hearing the case.

The next trial date has yet to be scheduled. Since Ford is listed as a party in the latest appeal, Murdock said he and his team are preparing for the latest moves in court.

“We’re going to respond to the appeal as we’re obligated to do and argue that the trial court made the correct decision,” Murdock said.

Contact Kyleigh Jarosinski at [email protected].

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Contact Mike Nied at [email protected].