LSU admits to making ‘nominal’ alterations to John Chavis’ contract; judge tells coach to submit phone records _lowres

Advocate staff photo by Ross Dellenger -- Former LSU Defensive Coordinator John Chavis returned to Baton Rouge on Thursday for a court hearing.

LSU, in filings this week, admitted to altering the contract of former LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis after the coach signed the deal, but the school contends the alterations were “nominal” and did not affect its terms.

Meanwhile, a judge on Thursday granted a motion compelling Chavis to release his phone records for a 14-week period starting in November 2014.

Chavis, who left LSU after last season to be the defensive coordinator at Texas A&M, appeared at a hearing Thursday in the 19th Judicial District Court in East Baton Rouge Parish. Chavis declined comment, through his attorney, afterward. He sat through the nearly two-hour hearing, mostly in silence, and dressed in a brown pinstripe suit, striped tie and white shirt.

State District Judge Timothy Kelley ruled on two matters during the latest event surrounding the messy divorce between Chavis and LSU: that Chavis’ defamation claim against LSU will proceed, and that the coach must turn over to the court specific phone records from November 2014 to Feb. 13, 2015.

The biggest news, though, happened outside of the court room in this now 9-month-old fight between the program and a man who led the Tigers’ defensive unit for six seasons.

In filings made Tuesday morning, LSU admits to altering the 2012 contract of Chavis after the coach signed it — one of Chavis’ claims in the ongoing lawsuit between the two parties.

“It’s exactly what coach has been saying all along, that the contract was altered after he signed it in 2012,” said Jill Craft, attorney for Chavis. “You can’t alter a contract and try to claim it’s valid, and you certainly can’t sue over it. One of the things they did admit that was altered was the buyout provision. In some sense, it’s vindication.”

Bob Barton, representing LSU, released a statement to The Advocate on Thursday, calling the alterations “innocent, unintentional and immaterial.”

“The ‘alteration’ issue is nothing more than an attempt to divert attention from the real issues,” Barton said. “LSU and Mr. Chavis had a valid employment agreement from 2009 until he left the University at the end of 2014. There were multiple amendments to the employment agreement during that time, including the 2012 amendment that Mr. Chavis claims was altered. Importantly, the 2012 contract was ratified in 2013 by a Memorandum of Understanding that extended Mr. Chavis’ contract with LSU by another year, through the end of 2015.”

Craft contends the alterations were “substantial” and, no matter what, the changes mean the contract is void, she said.

“It still means there’s no deal,” Craft said.

Chavis appeared at the hearing for live testimony, Craft said, but that was not needed.

The buyout and the timing of Chavis’ departure for A&M are at the heart of the suit.

Chavis’ abrupt exit after last season sparked a pair of lawsuits — one from Chavis in Texas and LSU’s suit in Louisiana. Chavis’ suit in Texas was dismissed earlier this year.

LSU, in its lawsuit against Chavis, claims the coach owes a $400,000 buyout for breaking his contract early. Chavis and A&M are arguing against that claim, and the coach said LSU owes him more than $200,000 in unpaid vacation wages and academic performance bonuses and another $245,000 in penalty wages.

Chavis also contends that LSU defamed him — something that will continue to be a part of the arguments after Kelley’s ruling Thursday.

Kelley, as attorneys were exiting the court room, urged for the parties to come to a resolution and indicated that he was surprised the case had dragged on so long.

The next step in the process is the retrieval of Chavis’ phone records. LSU attorneys want the records as further proof that the coach breached his contract.

During the hearing, Craft called LSU’s request a “fishing expedition” and said that Chavis’ communication with his attorneys and agent is privileged information. Kelley ruled Chavis must turn over phone and email records that include communication about his employment at LSU, departure and the pending litigation.

A meeting will be scheduled after Jan. 1 to draw up the specifics and a protective order.

Kelley said the phone records should be made available to uncover the subjects in which he communicated with during his exit from LSU and hiring at A&M, specifically high school recruits while “on LSU’s nickel,” the judge said.

“The Court vindicated LSU’s position on its motion to compel and ordered Mr. Chavis to produce records that he has previously withheld,” Barton said in the statement. “LSU looks forward to obtaining those records and moving this matter toward resolution.”

Through a public records request, LSU obtained a letter of agreement for Chavis to become the new defensive coordinator at Texas A&M. The letter was sent to Chavis on Dec. 27 and was signed in December, though the exact day was redacted. LSU lost 31-28 to Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl, which took place on Dec. 30.

The timing of Chavis’ departure is essential to the case. Chavis would owe no buyout if he left after Jan. 31, 2015, according to the coach’s contract. Chavis and A&M claim the coach wasn’t hired until February.

Chavis, though, is seen in photographs actively recruiting for Texas A&M during the month of January, even posing for photos with prospects while wearing Texas A&M gear. LSU, in its recent filings, says Chavis entered into a compensated “Consulting Agreement” with Texas A&M that identifies him as a “Countable Coach Consultant” from Jan. 6 to Feb. 11, allowing him to recruit for A&M.

The alterations of the contract are another matter in this never-ending fight.

In the filings this week, LSU explains why and how the original contract was altered after Chavis’ signature early in 2012, after the 2011 SEC championship season.

The school calls the changes “nominal” and that they “in no way altered or affected the contract’s terms and in no case altered Chavis’ obligation to pay LSU $400,000 if he left LSU before February 2015.

At least three lines of the contract were changed, according to a side-by-side comparison of the contracts that The Advocate obtained through the court.

Chavis received a copy of a new three-year contract on Jan. 1, 2012, signed it and returned it to LSU. The contract was not approved by the LSU Board of Supervisors until June of that year.

During the gap of time between those two events, LSU President John Lombardi was removed from his position. President William L. Jenkins replaced him in an interim role.

Lombardi’s name was included in Chavis’ signed contract. Mark Ewing, LSU’s senior association athletic director for business, or someone at Ewing’s “discretion” removed Lombardi’s name from the contract and added Jenkins’ name, the documents say.

Two lines of the buyout clause in the original contract were also changed in early April. On April 3, the document says, someone from the school’s Finance and Administrative Services or the LSU Systems Office called Ewing about rewording the dates of the buyout section of the contract.

Ewing changed the language regarding the buyout dates from “between 24 months to 36 months” to “between the first day of the 36th month remaining to the last day of the 24th month remaining.”

He also changed language in the buyout dates from “between 11 months and 23 months” to “between the first day of the 23rd month remaining to the last day of the 12th month.”

Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @RossDellenger.