Dueling lawsuits to continue: John Chavis suit against LSU returned to state court, not dismissed _lowres

Advocate file photo by BILL FEIG -- LSU head coach Les Miles, right, looks on after introducing defensive coordinator John Chavis in January of 2009.

LSU and former defensive coordinator John Chavis will continue their legal battle in two states.

A federal judge this week did not rule on the school’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 Chavis’ current employer, 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 court was resolved.

The ruling 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 A&M claim he does not. Chavis left the Tigers for the same position at A&M after last season.

A hearing on Chavis’ claim of duplicate lawsuits — the first court appearance in either case — is still scheduled for 9:30 a.m. June 29 in the 19th Judicial Court in East Baton Rouge Parish.

Meanwhile, the judge assigned to the Louisiana-based case disclosed in a letter to both attorneys that he’s been an LSU football season ticketholder for more than 20 years and is a graduate of LSU Law School.

“I do not believe that this would in any way effect my ability to be fair and unbiased in this matter,” Kelley wrote. “I am 100 percent firm in my belief that I can and will be fair and unbiased.”

At the request of Chavis’ attorney, Jill Craft, Kelley also revealed that he donated $500 to the Tiger Athletic Foundation last year and his wife had previously held basketball season tickets. Kelley was assigned to the case after another judge, William A. Morvant, recused himself because of a “conflict of interest.” Morvant is an adjunct professor at LSU Law School.

At the same time, Chavis’ case against the school in Texas will continue to play out given this week’s ruling. There is no court appearance set in that lawsuit, which returns to the 272nd District Court in Brazos County. The site of Texas A&M, College Station, is in Brazos County.

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.” The clause “would allow LSU to terminate Chavis’ employment in the event Les Miles’ employment (is) terminated with LSU,” documents say.

He left for Texas A&M, a rival in the Southeastern Conference Western Division. Last year, A&M and LSU met for the first time in what is expected to be an annual season-ending duel.

The saga between Chavis and LSU 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 venom-filled filings since the lawsuits were filed in late February.

LSU has filed motions to have Chavis’ suit dismissed on grounds of jurisdiction, arguing that it belongs in Louisiana. The federal judge in Texas did not entertain that request, allowing the state court to decide the matter.

The school also 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 hire Feb. 13.

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.

In the hearing set for June 29, Chavis is arguing Lis Pendens, an exception that protects against duplicate litigation existing at the same time and seeking similar, if not the same, relief.

Chavis wants the court to throw out LSU’s lawsuit against him or, at least temporary stop it until Chavis’ own suit against the university — in Texas court — is resolved.

Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.