MORGANTOWN – Former West Virginia University football coach Rich Rodriguez can't hide arrangements he and the University of Michigan made to buy out his West Virginia contract, Monongalia County Circuit Judge Robert Stone ruled June 23.
Stone rejected a bid by Rodriguez's attorney, Sean McGinley of Charleston, to redact a dollar figure from letters relating to Rodriguez's switch from West Virginia to Michigan.
West Virginia University attorneys suspect Rodriguez obtained a $4 million commitment before agreeing to coach Michigan.
If so, they argue, Rodriguez can't pursue a claim that the buyout clause is invalid and unenforceable.
Rodriguez resigned Dec. 19. The university sued him Dec. 27, seeking to enforce the buyout.
Stone had ruled in April that the university couldn't see Michigan documents, but at a Monday morning hearing he said new information had developed since then.
"This is discovery," Stone said. "It doesn't mean that if this case ever goes to trial that everything that's discovered is necessarily going to go to the jury."
Stone also ordered Rodriguez to produce every employment contract and endorsement contract he has signed since 2000.
University attorney Jeff Wakefield sought the contracts to counter Rodriguez's argument that university officials fraudulently induced him to sign a contract last August.
Wakefield told Stone, "We are dealing with a sophisticated person."
Stone denied a motion to produce real estate contracts Rodriguez has signed, but he said he might order Rodriguez to produce them later.
Wakefield said Rodriguez participated in three partnerships that developed real estate in South Carolina, Virginia and Alabama.
Wakefield opened the hearing by telling Stone that if Rodriguez bargained for a mechanism to pay the buyout, he must have considered it valid and something he needed to honor.
He said Rodriguez testified in a deposition that university President Mike Garrison promised to reduce the payment to $2 million.
He said a $4 million arrangement would be inconsistent with the claim of a $2 million promise.
He said Rodriguez alleges the buyout clause held him hostage because he couldn't afford to leave. "But he left," Wakefield said.
Stone said the exact purpose of the buyout was to make it difficult for Rodriguez to leave.
He said the purpose was the same for the university, making it step back and think before firing him.
"If it's hostage on one side it's extortion on the other side, I guess," Stone said.
Wakefield said, "He has arranged for it to be paid. West Virginia University doesn't really care who pays the liquidated damages."
McGinley responded for Rodriguez that $4 million represents a penalty rather than damages.
He asked, "Is this number related to actual damages?"
He said Wakefield took the word, hostage, out of context.
He said whether someone agreed to pay the buyout was irrelevant.
Stone granted the university's motion.
Wakefield then asked Stone to compel Rodriguez to disclose his conversations with a tax attorney.
Wakefield said attorney client privilege didn't apply because Rodriguez testified he received only tax advice from the attorney.
McGinley said a client doesn't waive the privilege unless he discloses and describes legal advice. He said the attorney gave advice in his specialty, deferred compensation.
Stone told McGinley to prepare a privilege log that he could review to decide what the university would see. He told Wakefield, "If it's what the defense says it is, you're not going to get it."
McGinley protested that the university needed to make a preliminary showing that Rodriguez waived the privilege.
Stone said the university didn't have to do that.
Wakefield then asked for all contracts Rodriguez has signed since 2000.
McGinley told Stone, "You would have to understand the circumstances surrounding each and every one of those contracts."
He said the request included mortgages and personal finances.
Stone said the university wrote the request so broadly that it would cover credit card charges and utility bills.
Wakefield said he would limit the request to employment, endorsements and real estate.
Stone granted the motion on employment and endorsements. He said he would go slowly on real estate but he didn't rule it out.