Mistrial declared in former UL-Lafayette head football coach’s discrimination lawsuit _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK -- Former UL-Lafayette head football coach Jerry Baldwin, as seen in 1999.

A Baton Rouge judge declared a mistrial Thursday night after a jury deliberated for more than seven hours but could not decide whether the first black head football coach at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette was fired in 2001 because of the color of his skin.

The East Baton Rouge Parish jury of six women and six men — nine of whom are white and three black — told state District Judge Todd Hernandez shortly before 9 p.m. that they were deadlocked and could not reach a verdict on Jerry Baldwin’s racial discrimination claim.

Baldwin’s attorney, former UL-Lafayette football player Karl Bernard, said after the marathon court session that he will pursue another trial.

“It’s been a long haul. To not get a verdict is disappointing,” Bernard said at the conclusion of the eight-day trial.

Baldwin’s teams at UL-Lafayette compiled a combined record of six wins and 27 losses in his three seasons at the helm, but he nevertheless claims he was terminated because of his race.

Bernard argued to the jury earlier Thursday that Baldwin inherited a bad team from his predecessor, Nelson Stokley, who had a record of 62-80-1 from 1986 to 1998 but was just 1-10 and 2-9 in his final two seasons, respectively.

“Nobody expected him to turn that program around in three years,” Bernard said of Baldwin, claiming further that Baldwin was given no indication his job was in jeopardy.

Bernard stressed that former UL-Lafayette President Ray Authement, who hired Baldwin, and the school’s former athletic director, Nelson Schexnayder, are not racist, but he said “in this case they made a decision based on race.”

“They made a mistake,” Bernard charged. “Instead of fessing up, they’re covering up.”

Bernard flatly stated Baldwin would not have been fired with one year remaining on his four-year contract if he were white.

Baldwin was paid for the final year of the contract.

One of the university’s attorneys, Stephen Oats, rejected Bernard’s contention, arguing that the cold, hard truth in college football is that success is measured by winning and losing.

“Six wins and 27 losses — worst record at the university in 115 years,” Oats told the jury.

Oats argued Authement was not part of some “grand conspiracy” to fire Baldwin based on his race.

“We all know we have racism and bigotry in our world, but you have to have evidence. It can’t just be a theory,” Oats said of Baldwin’s case.

Oats said Baldwin also was terminated because of falling attendance at UL-Lafayette home football games and declining revenue.

Stokley’s teams won 43 percent of their games. The teams coached by Baldwin’s successor, Rickey Bustle, who like Stokley is white, won 38 percent of their games, posting an overall record of 41-65 from 2002 to 2010. Baldwin’s teams won just 18 percent of their games from 1999 to 2001. Stokley died in 2010.

An East Baton Rouge Parish jury awarded Baldwin $2 million in 2007, but a state appellate court cited jury selection, jury verdict form and expert witness issues in tossing the verdict two years later and ordering a new trial.

Hernandez ruled in 2011 that UL-Lafayette acted within its contractual rights when it fired Baldwin. An appeals court later reversed the judge, but the state Supreme Court ruled in 2014 the university did not breach Baldwin’s contract.

Baldwin is now a pastor at New Living Word Ministries in Ruston and principal of New Living Word school, where he also coaches.