Ford tries to dismiss lawsuit by KSU

Thomas Gallick

Geno Ford asked a Portage County Common Pleas judge to dismiss a $1.2 million lawsuit Kent State University filed against him and award him attorney’s costs in court documents filed Friday.

KSU filed the suit against its former men’s basketball coach on April 26, alleging Ford broke the terms of his contract when he agreed to become Bradley University’s new head coach in March.

KSU claims that under the terms of their contract, Ford owes his base salary ($300,000) multiplied by the number of years left on his contract (4) in damages.

In his answer, or written response to the filing of the lawsuit, Ford’s attorney denied the allegations that the coach “unilaterally” broke the contract and now owes $1.2 million to KSU. The attorney also lists 14 affirmative defenses for Ford.

Jim Juliano, a Cleveland sports lawyer with Nicola, Gudbranson & Cooper, said that amount of defenses was not unusual.

“Affirmative defenses must be listed (in the answer),” Juliano said. “It is typical for defense counsel to put every conceivable defense in there.”

Defenses listed include claims that the agreement between KSU and Ford was modified after the contract was signed, that Ford performed all “enforceable” duties laid out in the contract and that damage provisions in Ford’s contract are “unconscionable.”

One defense also states that KSU’s claims are “barred by its (prior) breaches of contract.”

Jim Watson, associate counsel at KSU, said he did not know what the defense meant by stating KSU had breached Ford’s contract.

“That’s a little confusing,” Watson said. “I’m not sure what he’s suggesting there.”

Juliano said much of the language in Ford’s answer is too general to tell exactly what the defense will argue, although it seems possible they will contend KSU waived its right to seek damages in court by allowing Ford to interview with Bradley University.

Ford’s attorney, Fritz Byers of Toledo, could not be reached for comment.

In its lawsuit, KSU claims Ford needed written permission from the university to respond to any school that sought to hire him and that the coach broke his contract by accepting the new position unilaterally.

KSU is also suing Bradley University for damages in excess of $25,000, alleging the school interfered with Ford’s contract.

In its answer, also filed on Friday, Bradley claims in more direct terms that Ford had KSU’s permission to interview.

“(KSU) unconditionally consented to (Ford) interviewing to fill the open position of head coach of Bradley’s men’s basketball team and, therefore, cannot seek damages in tort from Bradley,” the school’s attorney wrote.

Among other defenses, Bradley University is claiming the amount of damages KSU seeks is “completely unreasonable. ” The school also asked the court for a dismissal of the suit with an award of attorneys fees.

At the end of their answers, both Ford and Bradley University ask for a trial by jury. Watson said a settlement before the case goes to trial is always possible.

According to court records, no events have been scheduled yet for the lawsuit.

Thomas Gallick is a reporter for The Record-Courier. This article was first published on June 1, 2011.