A public records lawsuit between an Omaha law firm and the University of Nebraska took a turn on Wednesday, when university and Husch Blackwell attorneys announced they had reached an agreement on records related to UNO's dropping of football and wrestling.
NU lawyers gave 224 pages of records to Husch Blackwell attorneys, and tentatively agreed to pay $13,568.75 in attorneys' fees, according to a statement released through NU spokeswoman Melissa Lee.
Douglas County District Judge Leigh Ann Retelsdorf had ordered the university to release the records Husch Blackwell requested, and she had ordered the university to pay an unspecified amount of attorneys' fees.
The university still may appeal Retelsdorf's decision, according to the Wednesday statement. It also said, “The parties have agreed to meet to discuss all remaining issues relating to the litigation and have agreed to refrain from further statements to the press until such meeting has concluded.”
Husch Blackwell attorneys and Lee declined further comment.
The case has to do with the University of Nebraska at Omaha's controversial 2011 decision to drop its football and wrestling programs.
Husch Blackwell attorneys said previously that they had been contacted by the families of football recruits.
The law firm sought public records to determine whether the university knew the football program would be canceled when it recruited new players. If that were the case, Husch Blackwell might sue the university on behalf of those players, the attorneys said.
The university fought the public records request. Husch Blackwell narrowed its request. Retelsdorf ordered the university in early August to release the documents within 30 days. The university did so last week.
Husch Blackwell declined to comment on whether any further legal action would follow.
The World-Herald, through a public records request to the university, obtained on Wednesday the same documents NU surrendered to Husch Blackwell.
An initial review of the documents showed no evidence that UNO officials knew they were going to drop football while its coaches still were recruiting athletes. UNO officials have said they did not decide to drop football and wrestling until after the football recruit signing day of Feb. 2, 2011.
There appears to be no “smoking gun” email or letter in the documents, which consist largely of correspondence between UNO Athletic Director Trev Alberts, Chancellor John Christensen, NU President J.B. Milliken and NU Foundation officials from June 2010 to April 2011.
The correspondence includes no references to dropping football or wrestling dated earlier than March 13, when UNO announced its plans to join the Summit League and move to Division I athletics.
The earliest reference to the Summit League comes in a schedule for an official visit to UNO by officials of that conference on March 9-10, 2011. That visit was publicized at the time.
Alberts has said that UNO had begun exploring conference options in December 2010 and that the Summit League commissioner on Feb. 18, 2011, told Alberts the conference was interested in sponsoring UNO in Division I.
Alberts has said UNO had no guarantees of conference membership until the Summit League formally invited UNO on March 11, 2011.
To be sure, the documents do not include all university officials' correspondence or discussions about conference realignment, the move to Division I or which sports to add or drop.
For example, they don't include a document (previously reported on by The World-Herald) that was prepared for a Jan. 25 meeting. In that document, Alberts indicated that UNO “has an informal outstanding invitation” to join the Summit League. And if the bid were to become reality, UNO would “end football and wrestling,” the document said.
Alberts has said that the Jan. 25 document overstated the case and that UNO “didn't have a verbal guarantee until the 18th of February.”
The documents do provide a further glimpse into the hard feelings at UNO after the decision. There's an email from Alberts to Christensen about a celebration of the “amazing history” of UNO's wrestling program, which won a national championship the day before UNO announced it intended to drop the program. The April 2011 email from a then-associate head wrestling coach invited dozens of people at UNO, Nebraska high schools and beyond — but not Alberts and Christensen, at least until someone forwarded it.
“Not sure if you saw this ... I was not invited ...” Alberts wrote to Christensen.
“I have not seen or heard of this and would not or will not be attending,” Christensen replied.
Alberts answered that he, too, “would be uncomfortable attending as well,” and had committed to another event.
The documents also include a glowing job performance review for Alberts for 2010-11, particularly praising his handling of the move to Division I and the Summit League. The move involved “a series of bold and thoughtful steps led by Trev,” the document said.
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