Nearly 11 years since his controversial firing at Texas Tech, Mike Leach still is waging an expensive war against Tech and will not let up “until he dies,” according to the man Leach hired to lead the fight.
Leach, now the football coach at Mississippi State, has spent about $250,000 since January 2018 as part of an effort to dig up dirt on Tech. On Friday, the conflict also spilled into an online court hearing that spanned more than three hours.
Both sides dug in. An attorney for Tech said in the hearing that Leach’s hired guns were “game-playing” and accused them of making “constant misrepresentations.”
But Leach has said it’s the opposite and is prepared for a long battle.
“Mike will go to his death demanding the truth and demanding they pay him what they owe him,” Leach’s investigator, Wayne Dolcefino, told USA TODAY Sports. “I’ve got no indication that coach Leach isn’t prepared to fight the war until he dies.”
Leach hired Dolcefino in 2017, enlisting his services as an attack dog that has sued Tech to obtain public documents related to Leach’s termination there in December 2009. Tech fired Leach for cause, saying he mistreated a player suffering from a concussion. That player was Adam James, son of former ESPN broadcaster Craig James. Craig James told Tech then that Leach punished his son for having a concussion by having him locked in an electrical closet for hours, a narrative that Leach said is false and contradicted by witnesses.
To keep fighting this fight, Leach, arguably Tech’s best coach in history, is bankrolling Dolcefino’s lawsuit but not participating in it directly and did not appear in Friday’s hearing.
In his view, this is a battle for truth and unpaid bills. He said Tech still owes him about $2.4 million for his final season there in 2009, when the Red Raiders finished 9-4. His quest for documents also is designed to expose what happened to him at Tech and any other shenanigans he might find.
In response, Tech has said it has paid Leach what it owed him and complied with the Texas public-records law. Tech then drew its own line in the sand with a statement on Sept. 1.
“In no possible conclusion of this lawsuit will the university pay any money to its former employee coach Mike Leach. Not even $1,” attorneys from the Texas Attorney General’s office wrote in a court filing on behalf of Tech.
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The same attorneys also recently described the situation as harassment and a “circus.”
“This lawsuit is not about obtaining documents, but instead it is just a vehicle to harass the university and its officials over the decision to terminate coach Mike Leach in 2009,” they said in court documents Aug. 31.
In a separate lawsuit in 2010, Leach accused Tech of breach of contract but never got his day in court. He lost his bid for monetary damages on the basis that Tech had sovereign immunity that protected it from being successfully sued for damages as a state institution.
This time, the lawsuit is about the Texas Public Information Act and whether Leach’s investigator is getting public documents he’s entitled to get from Tech. Dolcefino’s firm in Houston, Dolcefino Consulting, filed suit against Tech in January 2018, seeking to compel Tech to produce those records associated with Leach’s termination.
Two attorneys in Dallas, Julie Pettit and Michael Hurst, are litigating the battle in court on behalf of Dolcefino Consulting, which is working on behalf of Leach.
Leach, 59, declined comment, deferring to Dolcefino and the attorneys. Tech spokesman Chris Cook also declined comment, deferring to comments made by Tech’s attorneys in court proceedings.
“He is furious about this,” Dolcefino said of Leach. “Mike rarely tells me how to do what I’m doing. He’s just so pissed. I’ve never seen anyone who’s been screwed for 11 years who’s still so pissed.”
The case – and its participants – have taken some strange turns since it started.
►In late June, Dolcefino, a former television reporter, was arrested for contempt of court in an unrelated case after allegedly interrupting a court proceeding in Houston to try to interview a judge. Dolcefino’s attorney in that case has disputed the charge, but Dolcefino does have a flair for confrontation.
His website has posted provocative video commentaries on the Tech case, including a video posted July 28 in which Leach rips Tech.
“My records aren’t the only ones Texas Tech is covering up,” Leach said in the video. “They’re covering up any records they feel like covering up.”
►Last year, a legal assistant in the Attorney General’s Office working on behalf of Tech “mistakenly” made 6,000 pages of Tech documents available to one of Dolcefino’s attorneys. Tech is now trying to claw back those records through the court, saying they were privileged records and that all copies should be destroyed.
“Good luck getting them back,” Dolcefino said in the video July 28. Dolcefino told USA TODAY that evidence in these documents “sort of proves that they altered the reports to make it look like Mike Leach did something worse” than what happened in 2009.
Dolcefino also said Tech tried to drastically overcharge him for record production, withheld documents responsive to his requests and even destroyed such records. Tech has said it released some documents as requested and advised Dolcefino that it was withholding others pursuant to the law.
“It is time for (Dolcefino’s) circus to end,” Tech’s attorneys said in the filing Aug. 31. “The time for sideshows and distractions and is over. The university rightfully fired coach Leach when he punished an athlete for having a concussion and rightfully withheld documents from disclosure under various TPIA exceptions.”
►The court case is based in Tech’s home of Lubbock but now is being overseen by its third judge, Paul Davis, who is based in Austin, more than 350 miles away. Davis has conducted hearings via Zoom conference during the pandemic. “We’ve run out of judges in West Texas who are not conflicted,” Dolcefino said, suggesting Tech has heavy influence in the region.
Davis retired from the district court in Austin in late 2004 but still presides as a visiting judge by assignment. Dolcefino eventually wants a jury trial in Lubbock.
“My hands are tied behind my back a little bit in that I’m the third judge on the case,” Davis said in the hearing Friday.
►In the hearing Friday, attorney Hurst argued that the office of the state’s top cop –Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton – should be disqualified from representing Tech because it has a conflict of interest. Paxton’s office is supposed to enforce the Texas Public Information Act on behalf of the public, including Dolcefino, but attorneys from Paxton’s office also are defending Tech in this case because Tech is a state institution.
“Ray Charles could see that (conflict), and not only is he blind, but he’s dead,” Hurst said Friday, referring to the late blind singer. Hurst said Tech should be represented by outside counsel instead of the Attorney General’s Office.
An attorney for Paxton’s office, Cynthia Akatugba, said there is no conflict. She said Friday the Attorney General’s Office essentially has separate walled-off divisions that work in public-records enforcement and general litigation.
The judge said he would rule on the matter in coming weeks. Dolcefino plans to keep fighting the fight in meantime.
“If those weasels don’t want to pay the guy for the football season, you can’t make people do the right thing,” Dolcefino said. “But you can expose them, and you can follow them around, and you can know things about their business practices and their personal relationships. Look, I have chosen not to get ugly other than fight for the records, but I know all kinds of stuff now. And I’ve chosen not to do that because I kind of really expected them at some point to say, ‘Here are the records. Go away.’ But now it’s a war.”
Leach spent 10 seasons at Tech before his firing. He then coached at Washington State for eight seasons until his hiring at Mississippi State in January. Leach’s Bulldogs are scheduled to open the season Sept. 26 at LSU.
Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: [email protected]