Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Basketball Coach Reportedly Will Plead Guilty in Assault Case

University of Mississippi basketball coach Andy Kennedy is expected to resolve the assault case against him by pleading to a lesser charge, according to published reports.

The case is scheduled for a jury trial on Monday in Cincinnati, where Kennedy was alleged to have assaulted a cab driver last December. News outlets in Mississippi are reporting that a Kennedy guilty plea, possibly to disorderly conduct, means the case probably will not go to trial.

Mike Allen, Kennedy's lawyer, told the Cincinnati Enquirer that the case is expected to be resolved by Monday. Allen would not elaborate on that comment and refused to confirm or deny reports about Kennedy's intentions to plead to a lesser charge.

We have followed the Kennedy case here at Legal Schnauzer for several reasons. One, Kennedy is an alumnus of, and former star player for, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), my former employer. Two of Kennedy's assistant coaches, Bill Armstrong and Torrey Ward, are UAB graduates, and they also were involved in the fracas--Armstrong to the point that he joined Kennedy in being arrested.

For good measure, I know Kennedy, Armstrong and Ward from my days of covering UAB athletics and have always found them to be pleasant, likable people. But as the victim of a felony assault myself, one that was hushed up and mishandled by law enforcement here in Alabama, I tend not to brush off stories about assault allegations. I'm also keenly aware that our justice system tends to cut breaks for people who are well known or powerful, while giving the shaft to regular people--like university editors, bloggers, and cab drivers.

We've followed the Kennedy case partly because it makes for splendid legal theater, filled with intriguing characters and subplots. The case is a textbook example of the wild twists and turns a seemingly simple matter can take when it enters the legal arena. The case includes:

* An eye witness who could have remained uninvolved, but stepped forward to give his version of events (and got sued for his trouble);

* A strong civil component, with lawsuits and countersuits;

* Questionable legal tactics from Kennedy's lawyer;

* A loss-of-consortium lawsuit from Kennedy's wife, Kimber, claiming the stress of dealing with the assault charge had adversely affected the couple's sex life. (As a public service, I feel obligated to report that Kimber Kennedy is smoking hot.)

* A videotape of Andy Kennedy being arrested, pleading with a police officer not to turn the situation into a criminal matter.

Put it all together, and you could call this case "Sex, Lies, and Videotape."

The legal problems could have a profound impact on Kennedy's coaching career. The Jackson Clarion-Ledger recently reported:

Kennedy could face up to six months in jail if convicted, but probation and a fine appear to be a much more likely punishment in this case.

There is nothing in his employment contract with the state of Mississippi that indicates a guilty verdict for a misdemeanor would automatically trigger his dismissal. But a clause does say the school could terminate a contract if the crime "causes notorious and public scandal."

Matt Steffey, a professor at the Mississippi College School of Law, said Kennedy's case certainly seems to reach that threshold.

"Anytime you have an assault involving alcohol and racism, especially in Mississippi, it's not going to look good for an employer," Steffey said. "In this case, it appears that if he's found guilty, it's up to the discretion of the Ole Miss administration.

"At that point, the question becomes, how much do they like him?"

A trial would be fraught with risk for Kennedy, the Clarion-Ledger reported:

Still, Steffey said there's a chance that something happens during the trial that's so explosive, Ole Miss might be left with little choice.

"That's the risk of going to trial," Steffey said. "A trial may prove that the cab driver's story was a complete fabrication, but it might not. If the trial looks damning, there's going to be some pressure on the university to take action."

Meanwhile, this has not been a good week for on-the-court news in the Ole Miss basketball program. Two of the Rebels best players, David Huertas and Malcolm White, announced they are not returning to the program.

For the next few days at least, Ole Miss fans likely will be focused on Kennedy's legal drama. The Clarion-Ledger indicates the coach and his representatives are looking for a way to put the case behind them. Even if the criminal matter is settled by Monday, several civil cases are still out there:

Steffey said firing Kennedy wouldn't be the school's only option for punishment. Ole Miss could issue a reprimand or ask him to go through diversity training and anger management classes. . . .

There also is the option that Kennedy could plead guilty or no contest before the trial starts. A no contest plea means he would not contest the charges brought by the state, but also does not admit guilt.

Kennedy wouldn't comment on the details of the case, but said he looks forward to the day when this is behind him. There is also a pending civil suit no matter what happens in the criminal trial.

"I'm listening to the advice of my lawyers and am prepared to go to trial," Kennedy said. "I don't know much about this stuff, and since they're in Cincinnati and I'm down here, I haven't had a lot of day-to-day dealings with it. Obviously, I hope this gets resolved as quickly as possible."

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