Rabalais: With a phone call, John Chavis took the wrong way out of LSU _lowres

Advocate file photo by BILL FEIG -- Former LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis

LSU won the first battle fought in a Louisiana courtroom between the university and former defensive coordinator John Chavis.

A judge Monday denied Chavis’ request to stay LSU’s suit against him in Louisiana, continuing the parties’ legal battle in two states: Texas and Louisiana. Chavis attorney Jill Craft plans to appeal the ruling from State District Judge Timothy Kelley.

Kelley handed down his ruling during a sometimes-testy hearing Monday in the 19th Judicial Court in East Baton Rouge Parish. Craft and LSU attorney Bob Barton exchanged arguments for about a half-hour before the judge’s decision. Kelley ruled that LSU’s suit against Chavis in Louisiana could continue while Chavis’ suit against the school in Texas court plays out. He also expressed the court’s “concern” over the jurisdiction of the case in Texas.

“The court is concerned there is any way the Texas court can keep this case,” Kelley said. “I don’t see how they can have jurisdiction.”

The decision is the latest in a litigation saga that began with LSU and Chavis filing dueling suits against each other Feb. 27 regarding the coach’s buyout. The school says he owes $400,000 for breaking his contract early, while Chavis and Texas A&M claim he does not. Chavis left the Tigers for the same position at A&M after last season, a stunning move to one of LSU’s chief rivals.

Now the parties are meeting in what has been a four-month-long battle that saw its first court hearing Monday. Chavis was not at the hearing in front of Kelley, who has disclosed that he’s a graduate of LSU Law School and a Tigers football season-ticket holder.

Attorneys in both cases are squabbling over the venue for the suits — Texas or Louisiana. Each wants the other’s case dismissed or stopped/stayed until the other has played out.

Kelley ruled against Chavis’ version of that Monday. LSU has filed a similar motion in Texas court, Barton said.

“The case belongs here,” Barton said after the hearing.

Craft is appealing and said the court Monday “overstepped its bounds.”

“It essentially told Texas it has no right to entertain (Chavis’ suit against LSU),” she said.

It’s unclear when LSU’s request to stay the Texas suit will be heard. No hearing has been set.

A federal judge earlier this month did not rule on LSU’s request to dismiss Chavis’ Texas-based suit against the school and sent the case back to the local district court in Brazos County, Texas — home to Texas A&M. LSU lawyers had moved the case to federal court in Houston and asked a judge there to throw out the suit or stay it until LSU’s lawsuit against Chavis in Louisiana was resolved.

The divorce between the coach and the school — at times messy — began in December, when contract extension talks broke down. Chavis says in court documents that he left the program after six years because he refused to sign a new deal that included the “Les Miles clause.” It “would allow LSU to terminate Chavis’ employment in the event Les Miles’ employment (is) terminated with LSU,” documents show.

The saga has no end in sight. There is a disconnect between the two regarding the $400,000 buyout the school says Chavis owes for breaching his contract.

The parties have made bitter filings since the lawsuits were filed in late February. LSU took a swipe at A&M’s struggling defense in one document in March, saying the program “was in dire need of defensive help.” LSU served Chavis with a motion of discovery March 13, seeking answers for his involvement with Texas A&M before A&M officially announced his hiring Feb. 13. He was seen in Aggies gear recruiting for the school in photos posted by recruits on social media.

Chavis, meanwhile, claims the school owes him more than $205,000 in unpaid vacation days and that LSU unlawfully doctored his 2012 contract, making it void.

Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.