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Court upholds ruling in O'Brien firing

  Legal Business  -   POSTED: 2007/09/21 13:33

A state appeals court has upheld a $2.5 million judgment awarded to former Ohio State University basketball coach Jim O'Brien over his 2004 firing. The Tenth District Court of Appeals ruled in an opinion issued Thursday that the Ohio Court of Claims rightfully decided in favor of O'Brien. The former coach had argued his concealment from the school of a personal loan he gave to a recruit in late 1998 did not warrant his dismissal. After the ruling, both parties appealed, OSU claiming the court erred in finding the former coach didn't materially breach his contract. The university added that additional instances of misconduct released by the NCAA in early 2006 should have barred O'Brien's claim altogether.

O'Brien also appealed the original ruling, claiming the court didn't properly calculate the amount of damages due and that OSU shouldn't have been able to reduce the sum because of bonus amounts they previously paid.

O'Brien was fired after he told former OSU Athletics Director Andy Geiger that he made the loan to the family of Aleksandar Radojevic, a prospect from Serbia. Radojevic never played for the Buckeyes, but O'Brien said he made the loan because his family was in financial straits following the death of Radojevic's father. Geiger reported the transaction to the NCAA in May 2004 and O'Brien was terminated in June, according to court documents.

The ruling that awarded O'Brien the judgment found that OSU's termination wasn't for a "material breach," defined as an act that defeats the entire purpose of the contract. The appeals court found that "NCAA compliance was but one of O'Brien's many duties."

The court added in its ruling that the stipulation in O'Brien's contract, approving termination for a material breach or NCAA violation, didn't allow OSU to determine a violation occured before the NCAA handed it down. The termination created "a 'bootstrapping effect' by allowing OSU to substitute its own judgment for that of the NCAA," the opinion stated.

The NCAA didn't issue an official ruling regarding O'Brien's violations until early 2006, and "even if it would have been proper to terminate him at that time, much of the liquidated damages awarded to O'Brien in the judgment of the trial court would have been earned as salary," the court said.

OSU is expected to issue a statement Thursday afternoon.


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