NFL Accused of Giving Charity ‘Hush Money’

May 31, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – The NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell paid $5,000 in “hush money” to a kids charity after insisting it move an event due to gambling and casino venue concerns, the charity claims.
Strikes for Kids of Elk Grove, Calif., sued the National Football League in Dallas County Court on Tuesday. Goodell is not a party to the lawsuit.
Strikes says the league forced it to change the venue for its Las Vegas All-Star Classic bowling event last year after the league expressed concern that it was taking place inside the Sunset Station Hotel & Casino.
The event was to feature several NFL players bowling with over 100 kids from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada, according to the complaint. Strikes says it told the league the Strike Zone bowling alley was separated from the casino and people could enter it without passing the sportsbook or the casino floor.
“Despite providing the requested clarification, the NFL claimed it would be against NFL rules and regulations to for NFL players to attend the charity event at the Strike Zone, and that Strikes needed to change the venue of the charity event,” the nine-page complaint states.
Strikes founder Joseph Allen “informed [NFL employee Brook] Gardiner of the overwhelming cost difference and the amount of revenue that would be lost by moving the venue of the charity event, but Gardiner insisted that the charity event needed to be moved or no NFL player would be permitted to participate,” according to the lawsuit.
Strikes says it had no option but to move the event to the NFL-approved Brooklyn Bowl, which was located in The Linq Hotel & Casino complex.
The charity claims the new venue only had 16 lanes compared to Strike Zone’s 72, forcing Strikes to shut down sales and give refunds to those who had already paid but could not be accommodated.
“After the charity event, by letter dated July 22, 2015, the NFL and Roger Goodell sent hush money to Strikes for Kids in the form of a $5,000 check,” the complaint states.
NFL officials did not immediately respond to an email message requesting comment Tuesday afternoon.
Strikes seeks actual and punitive damages for fraud. It is represented by Julie Pettit in Dallas.
The lawsuit comes 10 months after Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo filed asimilar lawsuit against the NFL over pulling players from attending his company’s fantasy football convention in Las Vegas due to gambling concerns.
His company, Fan Expo LLC, told the NFL that “the event was not taking place at a casino, that no gambling would take place at the event, and that children were allowed and encouraged to attend,” but to no avail.
“(J)ust weeks before the inaugural event, the NFL placed a series of intimidating phone calls to players, their families, their agents, and the NFL Players Association (‘NFLPA’), threatening that the players would be fined and potentially suspended from the NFL if they participated in the event,” Romo’s lawsuit stated.
In March, Dallas County District Judge Carl Ginsberg dismissed Romo’s fraud, tortious interference with a contract and business disparagement claims against the NFL, but ruled estoppel and breach of contract claims will move forward.
Romo’s company filed a second lawsuit against the NFL last month, claiming it pressured sponsor EA Sports from pulling out of its fantasy sports convention planned to take place this year in California.

From Courthouse News.

Labor Dept. Picks a Bone With Pilgrim’s Pride

May 27, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) — The Department of Labor wants to cancel more than $75 million in federal contracts with Pilgrim’s Pride for systematic discrimination against female, black and white jobseekers at a chicken plant east of Dallas.
Federal officials say the Greeley, Colo.-based chicken giant violated Executive Order 11246, which prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or national origin.
They say Pilgrim’s Pride systematically discriminated against black and white applicants for semi-skilled jobs and against female and white applicants for unskilled jobs at a Mount Pleasant chicken processing plant from July 2005 to July 2007.
The agency asked its Office of Administrative Law Judges on Wednesday to order Pilgrim’s Pride to hire the affected applicants with back pay and interest, prohibit it from further violations, and cancel current and future federal contracts until it complies with the order and remedies its violations.
“The company has won millions in federal contracts, but refuses to comply with anti-discrimination laws that apply to those contractors,” said Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs Director Patricia A. Shiu. “When contractors accept federal funds, they agree to take steps to make sure taxpayer money is never used to discriminate in hiring or employment — something Pilgrim’s Pride has failed to do.”
The company has federal contracts with the Department of Agriculture.
Pilgrim’s Pride denied the allegations Thursday, claiming the government used “misguided” statistical analyses “to identify contractor hiring shortfalls.” It said it will “vigorously defend our hiring practices” during trial.
“Significantly, not one of the thousands of Pilgrim’s applicants, nor any of the thousands of Pilgrim’s team members, have filed a single complaint with OFCCP in the past 11 years regarding Pilgrim’s hiring standards,” the company said in a statement. “Legal actions such as this present no opportunity for true public-private partnerships that would benefit American workers of all orientations.”
Pilgrim’s Pride, a subsidiary of Brazilian meat processor JBS S.A, is the second-largest chicken producer in the world. It operates in 12 U.S. states, Mexico and Puerto Rico and has approximately 35,000 employees.

From Courthouse News.

New Charge Against ‘Affluenza’ Killer’s Mom

May 27, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – A Texas grand jury has filed a new money laundering charge against the mother of “affluenza” killer Ethan Couch, who fled with him to Mexico last year.
Tonya Couch, 48, posted $10,000 bond Thursday for the new charge. She posted $75,000 bond in January after being charged with a third-degree felony count of hindering apprehension. She faces up to 10 years in state prison if convicted.
Couch withdrew $30,000 from her bank account before fleeing with her son and dog to Mexico in a black Ford F-150 truck, according to her arrest warrant.
Her son made headlines in 2013 when former Tarrant County District Judge Jean Boyd sentenced him to 10 years of probation and therapy for driving drunk on stolen and killing four people on the side of a road in south Fort Worth.
Boyd apparently was swayed by defense expert witness testimony that Couch suffered from “affluenza” – that his parents felt wealth bought them privilege and there was no rational link between behavior and consequences.
Ethan Couch made headlines again last year when he fled with his mother to Mexico after a video was posted on Twitter showing someone who resembles Ethan Couch at abeer pong game. He was banned from drinking alcohol under terms of his probation.
Tarrant County authorities launched a manhunt for mother and son after he missed an appointment with his probation officer and the video was made public.
Mexican officials arrested them in Puerto Vallarta in December. Tonya Couch was quickly deported. Ethan was deported in January and was sentenced to two years in county jail when his case was transferred to adult court in April when he turned 19.
Tarrant County District Judge Wayne Salvant gave Ethan Couch the maximum sentence allowed under his parole – 180 days for each of the four people he killed.

From Courthouse News.

Baylor Scandal Takes Down Starr, Head Coach

May 26, 2016
By David Lee
WACO, Texas (CN) – Baylor University demoted school President Ken Starr and fired football coach Art Briles on Thursday in the wake of a damning external review of how the religious school handled sexual assault complaints against its football players.
In a stunning reversal, Baylor’s board of regents announced that Starr, 69, has been removed as president and will remain as school chancellor and a faculty member. It said Briles, 60, is suspended with the intent to terminate, and athletic director Ian McCaw is sanctioned and put on probation.
In announcing the moves, regent Ron Murff apologized to those who tried to report the sexual assaults to the school.
“We are deeply sorry for the harm that survivors have endured,” he said in astatement. “Baylor’s mission to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community remains our primary imperative.”
Starr’s removal as president comes one day after school officials denied rumors that he had been fired.
The board ordered the external review by the Pepper Hamilton law firm in August 2015 as cases began to mount accusing school officials of failing to adequately investigate rapes allegedly committed by football players.
The board said the review revealed a “fundamental failure by Baylor to implement Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.”
Regent Richard Willis said students and their families “deserve more” than what was done.
“We were horrified by the extent of these acts of sexual violence on our campus,” he said. “This investigation revealed the University’s mishandling of reports in what should have been a supportive, responsive and caring environment for students. The depth to which these acts occurred shocked and outraged us.”
Pepper Hamilton concluded that administrators “directly discouraged” some complainants from reporting a sexual assault and in once case “constituted retaliation against a complainant” for reporting.
“In addition to broader University failings, Pepper found specific failings within both the football program and Athletics department leadership, including a failure to identify and respond to a pattern of sexual violence by a football player and to a report of dating violence,” the board said. “There are significant concerns about the tone and culture within Baylor’s football program as it relates to accountability for all forms of student athlete misconduct.”
Baylor settled a claim in January by an unidentified female student who claimed she was sexually assaulted by former football player Sam Ukwuachu, a 2013 transfer from Boise State University.
He was sentenced in August 2015 to 180 days in county jail, 10 years of probation and 400 hours of community service in McClennan County Court for sexual assault. The caseresulted in intense criticism of Briles and school officials over their knowledge of previous accusations against Ukwuachu before the transfer was approved.
A former student sued Baylor last month in federal court, claiming its counseling department told her they were “too busy” to see her after she was allegedly raped by football player Tevin Elliott, who is serving 20 years for sexual assaults.
Plaintiff Jasmin Hernandez said her mother called Briles to tell him what Elliott had done and received a phone call from his secretary saying they would look into it.
“Hernandez’s father also called Briles’ office several times to follow up,” her complaint stated. “Hernandez’s father never received a return phone call from Briles or anyone in his office.”
The board confirmed that football coaches and staff “met directly with a complainant and/or a parent of a complainant and did not report the misconduct,” resulting in no action being taken, according to its 13-page finding of fact.
In a hurried conference call after the announcement, the board expressed their shock at Pepper Hamilton’s findings.
“We were angry, sad and very humbled,” regent David Harper said. “They gave use a frank and candid assessment and offered forward-looking recommendations.”
The board declined to answer questions about why Starr was not outright fired, saying it was inappropriate to talk about individual cases.
“He always had the position of chancellor,” Harper said. “We felt it was an appropriate move to take away the responsibility of president.”
Briles could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon – his Twitter account has been deleted.
In a text message to his players before the announcement, Briles said he was “hurtful” to report his firing.
“Due to this early release I’m sorry that I can’t talk to all y’all in person,” Briles wrote. “It looks the remainder of the staff will stay intact which is beneficial to y’all. I sincerely appreciate your love, trust and loyalty. Stay strong, stay motivated, stay faithful.”

From Courthouse News.

Chesapeake Energy Settles Hundreds of Gas Royalty Claims

May 23, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) — Chesapeake Energy and a French partner agreed to pay over $52 million to settle hundreds of lawsuits filed by North Texas landowners claiming they were cheated out of millions in natural gas royalties.
Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake announced the settlement on Monday, agreeing to pay $29.4 million in cash and $10 million through a loan payable in 2019. Chesapeake’s partner in the joint venture, France-based Total S.A., will pay $13.1 million in cash under the deal.
“We are pleased to have reached a mutually acceptable resolution of this legacy issue and look forward to further strengthening our relationships with our royalty owners,” Chesapeake spokesman Gordon Pennoyer said in a statement.
The lawsuits were filed by 13,000 landowners in North Texas’ Barnett Shale. The cases were mostly filed in Tarrant and Johnson County courts, and by Fort Worth-based law firms Circelli, Walter & Young and the McDonald Law Firm.
In a federal lawsuit filed in 2012, one proposed class of landowners said they signed leases that expressly banned deduction of expenses from royalties including costs of treating, marketing and transporting the gas to market.
“But instead of paying royalty without deduction of post-production costs, as required by the lease, the Chesapeake entities improperly subtracted post production costs from the royalty due to the plaintiffs,” the complaint stated. “The Chesapeake entities employed a scheme whereby they ignored the contract language and made extensive deductions of post-production costs that were the Chesapeake entities’ obligations.”
Attorneys for the landowners have until July 11 to get written approval for the settlement by at least 90 percent of their clients.
Attorney George Parker Young said the settlement was reached after three weeks of “good faith mediation” by a former federal judge.
“(T)he case has been resolved to our satisfaction, though it is subject to our clients’ written approval,” Young said in a statement. “We are pleased that we have achieved a mutually acceptable global settlement and greatly appreciate the constructive approach taken by Chesapeake’s current leadership to resolve this matter.”

From Courthouse News.

Dallas County DA Hints at Mental Health Relapse

May 20, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk is facing renewed calls for her resignation after her office hinted Friday that she has suffered a mental health “relapse.”
Hawk disappeared from work for two months last summer, after taking office in January 2015. She later disclosed she was seeking treatment for a “serious episode of depression” and described her absence as a “summer break.”
A former prosecutor that Hawk fired, Cindy Stormer, sued last October, seeking Hawk’s ouster from office.
Stormer cited Hawk’s absence, several controversial firings of longtime staffers and Hawk’s allegedly erratic and paranoid behavior indicating a “complete break with reality.” A judge tossed the lawsuit in January.
In a vague press release, Hawk’s office said Friday that “relapse is common” for the 16 million people in the United States suffering from major depressive disorder.
The press release does not explicitly state Hawk is on leave for mental health treatment, but hints that she “is taking the necessary steps so that she can continue to serve the community.”
“She is being proactive with her mental health plan and is determined to stay whole and healthy to insure that Dallas County is safe and thriving,” her office said. “The Dallas County District Attorney’s Office will continue to operate with a commitment to justice and public safety.”
Hawk’s attorney in the ouster suit, Douglas Alexander with Alexander Dubose in Austin, said after the dismissal that his client should be congratulated for seeking help for her depression instead of being stigmatized and facing ouster. He said President Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression and was still a great leader.
Stormer alleged that Hawk’s former second-in-command Bill Wirskye was fired after being accused of breaking into Hawk’s home and stealing a “blow job shot” photograph. He said Hawk’s paranoia paralyzed the office, according an affidavit filed in the case.
“Her tone was both bizarre and aggressive,” Wirskye’s affidavit stated. “When I asked her what she was talking about, she accused me of calling her mother and harassing her, breaking into her parent’s garage, and breaking into her house and stealing a photo of her. (These accusations were all untrue.) It was apparent to me that Ms. Hawk was completely delusional and detached from reality.”
Wirskye said he was fired in March 2015 and that upon leaving the courthouse, he told Hawk’s political adviser that she needed to be placed “immediately” in in-patient treatment.
On Friday, Dallas criminal defense attorney Peter Schulte tweeted, “If DA Susan Hawk has truly relapsed and is back in treatment, it’s time for her to resign. I could understand once. Not twice. Wish her well.”
Attorney Tom Nowak also called for Hawk’s resignation.
“It’s one thing when you have an issue that affects you for a certain time, but when it’s a continual issue and you’re in a position of public trust, then you have to do what’s right for the county,” Nowak told The Dallas Morning News.

From Courthouse News.

Woman Blames Cowboys for Fiancé’s Death

May 20, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) — A woman whose fiancé was shot to death after a Cowboys-Patriots game blames shoddy security at the Cowboys’ stadium for his death.
After seeing the Cowboys lose 30-6, Angelica Secundino was leaving the game with her fiancé Richard Sells on Oct. 11 last year when an “altercation” in the parking lot ended with Sells being shot by another fan, she says in the Wednesday complaint in Dallas County Court.
She blames the stadium operator Cowboys Stadium dba AT&T Stadium and its affiliates, and Andy Frain Services, provider of ushers and security.
Secundino, who was pregnant with her fiance’s child at the time, says: “An altercation occurred in the parking lot of AT&T Stadium and Mr. Sells was shot by another patron. Defendants’ security personnel were aware of the altercation, but failed to adequately address it before it escalated into the shooting. Mr. Sells subsequently died as a result of the gunshot wound.”
The alleged shooter, Marvin Rodriguez, 28, was arrested and charged with murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He was held on $300,000 bail: $200,000 on the murder charge and $110,000 on the assault charge, and was released after posting bond when it was reduced in November.
The Cowboys did not immediately respond to an email message requesting comment after hours Thursday.
Secundino seeks punitive damages for negligence and wrongful death. She is represented by James Mitchell with Payne Mitchell.

From Courthouse News.