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John Curtis School Sues LHSAA

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Press Release

Contacts: Gibby Andry, The Andry Law Firm LLC, andry@gibbyandrylaw.com

J. T. Curtis, John Curtis Christian School, JtCurtis@johncurtis.com

John Curtis Christian School Files Suit Against LHSAA  for Defamation and Damages:

LHSAA STAFF FAILED TO DISCLOSE INTERNAL INVESTIGATION  WHICH FOUND NO EVIDENCE TO PROVE ANY VIOLATION OF LHSAA RULES AND REGULATIONS

River Ridge, LA, For Immediate Release: On January 30, 2017, attorneys for John Curtis Christian School filed suit against the Louisiana High School Athletic Association, Inc., its Executive Director Eddie Bonine, and Assistant Executive Director Buster John Guzzardo, Jr. In the complaint, filed in the Nineteenth Judicial District Court of East Baton Rouge Parish, Curtis demands relief for damages incurred as a result of LHSAA-imposed sanctions, levied after an Association hearing on August 31, 2016.

Curtis seeks the return of 20 wins and the 2013 state championship ordered forfeited by the LHSAA, along with damages, for the denial of due process, equal protection and defamation from the LHSAA’s failure to disclose its own internal investigation, which found no provable violation of LHSAA rules.

Despite an internal LHSAA investigation’s finding that there was no evidence of any LHSAA rule violation, the Association stripped Curtis of twenty football wins and the 2013 State Championship – all games in which current LSU standout offensive lineman Willie Allen participated.

Bonine’s initial notice to the school made reference to the internal investigation conducted by LHSAA Compliance and Investigative Officer Joe Kleinpeter. With respect to Kleinpeter’s findings,

Bonine stated that he agreed “in its entirety of circumstance (sic), and [I] concur with the findings” of the investigation. Bonine then identified eleven specific rules that Officer Kleinpeter had purportedly found were violated.

J.T. Curtis, Jr., the Headmaster and head football coach, appealed the finding, which was heard on August 31, 2016. At the hearing, the LHSAA not only failed to call Kleinpeter, it failed to provide Curtis with a copy of the report. The report was not introduced at the hearing, and its contents remained unknown to Curtis.

Subsequently, an apparent whistleblower within the LHSAA offices sent a copy of the report to Gerald “Trey” Labat, a sports reporter with the Lafayette Daily Advertiser. Labat published details of the report, and questioned the validity of the sanctions against Curtis, in an article published on September 12, 2016, “LHSAA investigator: ‘No evidence to prove’ John Curtis violation”. Labat then provided the report to Curtis, after a request from counsel.

The allegations against Curtis centered on Willie Allen’s residence in the home of a Curtis coach and his wife, Jerry and Lindsi Godfrey, from August of 2013 until his graduation in 2015. When he is not at LSU, Allen continues to reside with the Godfrey’s. At the hearing, the LHSAA wrongfully argued that Allen, who traveled every day from New Orleans East to the River Ridge school by public transportation, was “induced” to stay at Curtis by the offer of housing, based upon the findings of the investigator.

Officer Kleinpeter’s actual report found no violation of the LHSAA’s rules:

The big question. Article 2 of our Bylaws. Yes, Coach Godfrey does provide Willie with a home, clothing, food, etc. These are listed as inducement (sic) to attend and RETAIN a student for athletic purposes.

It is obvious Willie did not receive any inducement to attend John Curtis Christian School the first three semesters, other than work-study. He had also sat out his one year of ineligibility for being out of zone. When he moved in with the Godfrey family, he was an eligible student-athlete at the school.

RETAIN. While it means to keep, my understand (sic) neither Willie nor his mother ever had any thought or desire to transfer Willie to any other school when Mr. Ziegler left the picture. While the presception (sic) may appear to be that the move into the Godfrey home was for athletic purposes, I could find no evidence to prove that to be proveable (sic). It is, however in line with the creed and mission of a Christian school to help the whole child, and all aspects of their life.

This is a tough one, glad I don’t have to make the decision. I understand the merits of either decision. I can only say this this (sic) childs (sic) future is bright and after interviewing the mother and knowing the fractured family configuration I am sure this young man only turned out the good person is (sic) because of the facts in this case.

It is very common in the city for children to attend schools outside their parents (sic) school zone while living with other family members or friends. Five years ago or more the best volleyball player at Houma Christian lived with the volleyball coach and was eligible. In fact the volleyball coach took the volleyball job at Riverside

Academy and transferred to Riverside with the coach (sic) and was ruled eligible. B.J. [Guzzardo] can give more information on the ruling. [Emphasis in bold in original; emphasis in italics added].

Not only did LHSAA’s Bonine and Guzzardo know of Kleinpeter’s findings; they personally knew of past situations in which a student-athlete resided in the home of a coach, and knew that the LHSAA had not found those situations to be illegal recruiting under its rules and regulations. This information was excluded from LHSAA’s complaint and withheld from Curtis during the appeal process.

Allen testified that he had no intention of ever leaving Curtis. “I never wanted to leave Curtis. I did what I had to do to graduate from Curtis. If that was waking up at 5:00 in the morning and catching the bus, I was willing to do it because I wanted to get a good education.” (Official transcript, page 15.)

Allen’s sister submitted a letter to the Association, confirming that Willie and their family never considered him leaving Curtis:

I am proud to call Lindsi Nihart Godfrey and Jerry an extension of our family… My brother and the rest of us love you all dearly… We kept him in Curtis because that’s where he wanted to be… He would have stayed there regardless…it would have been tough but he would have made it to school… You saw a need and stepped in… What is wrong with that? We are a non-traditional blended family by our own standards, period…why can’t they just accept that….

During the hearing, J.T. Curtis identified nine other students who had resided with a faculty member or an administrator, dating back to the 1970’s, many of whom were not athletes. (Official transcript, page 25.)

Curtis is seeking damages for defamation, attorney’s fees, and the return of the football victories and State Championship wrongfully ordered forfeited by the LHSAA.

John Curtis Christian School was founded in 1962. Headmaster J. T. Curtis, Jr., son of the school’s founders, is the winningest active coach in the history of football at any level, with over 540 wins and 26 state championships. He has spent his entire career at John Curtis Christian School, all as head coach.

The school is being represented by Walter M. Sanchez, of The Sanchez Law Firm, LLC, of Lake Charles and Gibby Andry, IV, of Gibby Andry, The Andry Law Firm, LLC, of New Orleans.

 

New Orleans Advocate Story 2-17-17:

John Curtis files lawsuit against LHSAA in hopes to  restore football wins, state title

BY ROD WALKER | RWALKER@THEADVOCATE.COM

  • FEB 16, 2017 – 8:50 PM

 

John Curtis Christian won its most recent state football championship in 2013.

The LHSAA stripped it away in August.

Now, Curtis is trying to get that title back.

Curtis filed a lawsuit against the LHSAA, according to a statement the school emailed to media outlets Thursday.

The lawsuit was filed in the Nineteenth Judicial District Court of East Baton Rouge Parish on Jan. 30.

According to the lawsuit, Curtis “seeks the return of 20 wins and the 2013 state championship ordered forfeited by the LHSAA, along with damages, for the denial of due process, equal protection and defamation from the LHSAA’s failure to disclose its own internal investigation, which found no provable violation of LHSAA rules.”

Eddie Bonine, executive director of the LHSAA, wouldn’t comment on specifics of the lawsuit.

“The LHSAA and/or it legal counsel have not officially received and reviewed the lawsuit,” Bonine said in a text message. “Until then, we will not speak to the litigation.”

The lawsuit comes less than six months after the LHSAA ruled Curtis had to forfeit all games from the 2013-2015 seasons that star offensive lineman Willie Allen participated in. Allen now plays at LSU.

That ruling stemmed from Allen living with Curtis assistant coach Jerry Godfrey and his family during Allen’s sophomore, junior and senior seasons.

But Curtis disputes that, saying no rules were violated.

“Despite an internal LHSAA investigation’s finding there was no evidence of any LHSAA rule violation,” the emailed statement said.

According to the school, Bonine’s initial notice to the school about the penalty made reference to the internal investigation conducted by LHSAA Compliance and Investigative Officer Joe Kleinpeter. Bonine then identified 11 specific rules thatKleinpeter had purportedly found were violated.

Patriots coach J.T. Curtis disagrees.

“They thought that Willie was living with Jerry Godfrey illegally, a fact that we never tried to hide or never thought was a violation of the rules in any way,” Curtis said last fall.

The school appealed the LHSAA’s decision last fall, but the LHSAA’s executive committee upheld the decision by a 16-1 vote. According to the lawsuit, “the LHSAA not only failed to call Kleinpeter, it failed to provide Curtis with a copy of the report. The report was not introduced at the hearing, and its contents remained unknown to Curtis.”

The lawsuit goes on to state that “during that hearing the LHSAA wrongfully argued that Allen, who traveled every day from New Orleans East to the River Ridge school by public transportation, was ‘induced’ to stay at Curtis by the offer of housing, based upon the findings of the investigator.”

During the hearing, J.T. Curtis identified nine other students who had resided with a faculty member or an administrator, dating to the 1970s, many of whom were not athletes.

Allen originally enrolled in Curtis during the middle of his eighth-grade year and began living with Godfrey at the start of his sophomore year. In an article published by The New Orleans Advocate in Jan. 2016, Allen said it was transportation issues during his eighth- and ninth-grade years that led him to move in with the Godfreys.

Godfrey, Curtis’ offensive line coach, offered Allen a place to live.

“It just felt like the right thing to do,” Godfrey said in the January article. “He was doing whatever it took to get to school, and it shows his level of commitment.”

Curtis, the school’s longtime coach, said after the LHSAA’s original ruling that he wasn’t concerned about the wins.

“That’s not relevant to me,” he said. “What’s relevant to me is making sure we are doing things correctly.”

FOLLOW ROD WALKER ON TWITTER, @RWALKERADVOCATE.

 

Times-Picayune/NOLA.com story 2-17-17:

John Curtis sues LHSAA in attempt to get back 20 forfeited wins, 2013 state football title

John Curtis wants its 2013 Division II state championship back, along with 19 other wins the LHSAA made the school forfeit last August. (File photo by Michael DeMocker, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

By Jim Derry, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
on February 16, 2017 4:58 PM, updated February 16, 2017 6:32 PM

John Curtis Christian School is suing the Louisiana High School Athletic Association for the return of 20 wins in football it was ordered to forfeit, along with the 2013 Division II state championship when Executive Director Eddie Bonine found it was former player Willie Allen was in violation of eligibility rules.

The August 2016 ruling stems from findings of the LHSAA that although Allen, now at LSU, was originally eligible when he enrolled at Curtis while living with an uncle, he only retained his eligibility by living with assistant coach Jerry Godfrey for the final three years of his time at the school, according to Bonine.

Former John Curtis player Willie Allen was at the heart of the August ineligibility ruling.(NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune file photo)

A subsequent appeal by the school was denied by a vote of 16-1.

John Curtis spokesman Bill Curl sent out a three-page press release on Thursday stating the “LHSAA staff failed to disclose (results from an) internal investigation, which found no evidence to prove any violation of LHSAA rules and regulations.”

The complaint, which was filed in East Baton Rouge Parish, files suit against the LHSAA, Bonine, and assistant director BJ Guzzardo.

Coach JT Curtis said on Thursday afternoon: “We tried to through the arbitration process, and it was not available to us. We just felt like we needed to have an opportunity to have justice done and to clear our name if we are not guilty of the violation of the rule, as we do not think we were.

“It was the only recourse we had.”

The school also says it is suing for “damages, the denial of due process, equal protection and defamation from the LHSAA’s failure to disclose its own internal investigation.”

Bonine’s ruling stated the school was found to have been in violation of rules under Section 2 in the LHSAA handbook, titled, “Recruiting.” More specifically, Bonine said, the rules that were broken came under subsets 2.1.2 and 2.1.3 of the LHSAA handbook, which in part states:

“ ‘Athletic recruiting’ is defined as the use of undue influence and/or special inducement by anyone connected directly or indirectly with an LHSAA school in an attempt to encourage, induce, pressure, urge or entice a prospective student of any age to transfer to or retain a student at a school for the purpose of participating in interscholastic athletics.”

In the release, it states in the initial internal investigation, led by compliance officer Joe Kleinpeter, it was reported to Bonine and the association that not only were there no violations of LHSAA rules, but that “It is obvious Willie did not receive any inducement to attend John Curtis Christian School the first three semesters, other than work-study. He also had sat out his one year of ineligibility for being out of the zone. When he moved in with the Godfrey family, he was an eligible student-athlete at the school.”

A spokesman for the LHSAA said on Thursday afternoon the association was not allowed to comment.

JT Curtis said he has stated all along he didn’t think the school was violating any rules in regards to Allen living with the Godfrey family, and he still believes this now. He has said on many occasions he and the school were public about Allen’s living arrangements, and there was even a story done by ESPN about the subject.

“Willie has continued to remain a big part of the Godfrey family through (the time he lived there) and right on through to today,” Curtis said. “That’s part of the issue with me that we want to have it recognized there’s nothing wrong with what he’s done, and I want him to feel good about who he is and what he’s accomplished.”

Allen, 6 feet 7, 310 pounds, redshirted at LSU last fall after incurring a knee injury and will again be classified as a freshman this coming year.

 

Jim Derry can be reached at jderry@nola.com or 504.232.9944. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JimDerryJr

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