Mistrial declared in racial discrimination trial of ex-UL-Lafayette coach _lowres

Photograph by Arthur D. LauckPicture shot on 8-12-99 DIGITAL CAMERA IMAGEUSL head football coach Jerry Baldwin. Keyword Coach

A Baton Rouge judge has refused to do what the University of Louisiana at Lafayette could not persuade a jury to do earlier this year: rule in the school's favor in a long-running racial discrimination lawsuit filed by its first black head football coach.

Six months after an East Baton Rouge Parish jury deadlocked on the issue of whether Jerry Baldwin was fired in 2001 because he is black, state District Judge Todd Hernandez declined to throw out Baldwin's suit.

The ruling means the suit is headed for a third jury trial.

"The court ... finds that reasonable fair-minded persons ... could arrive at a verdict favorable to (Baldwin) on the issue of (UL-Lafayette's) liability for his termination because of his race," Hernandez, who presided over the March trial, wrote Aug. 30.

The university's lawyers argued to the judge in late July that Baldwin was fired after the third year of his four-year contract because his record was pitiful.

"Jerry Baldwin was removed as head coach and his contract was paid out because of his record of 6 wins and 27 losses. Coach Baldwin had the worst record in UL's 115-year history," Lawrence Marino, one of the school's attorneys, wrote Thursday in an email response to Hernandez's ruling.

"Throughout the country, replacing a losing head coach is common and appropriate," he added. "UL was a leader in diversity in athletics and academics throughout (former UL-Lafayette) President (Ray) Authement's 34-year tenure. This leadership continues today."

Authement, who is white, hired and fired Baldwin.

Baldwin's attorney, former UL-Lafayette and NFL football player Karl Bernard, said Friday that in terms of the university support Baldwin received compared to his predecessor and successor, "he was treated differently." Bernard also contends Baldwin inherited a very poor team. 

"I believe we have a great case," he stressed. "We will ask for a new trial date."

A different East Baton Rouge Parish jury awarded Baldwin $2 million in 2007 after concluding that university officials breached his contract. The jurors also decided that race played a role in his firing but was not the sole reason for the coach losing his job.

A state appeals court panel threw out that verdict two years later and ordered a new trial. The panel cited jury selection, jury verdict form and expert witness issues.

Hernandez ruled in 2001 that UL-Lafayette acted within its contractual rights in firing Baldwin, but an appellate court reversed the judge. The state's highest court then ruled in 2014 that the school did not violate Baldwin's contract.

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

Follow Joe Gyan Jr. on Twitter, @JoeGyanJr.