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Hawkeye athletics director Barta, former strength coach Doyle deposed in racism lawsuit
'Kirk Ferentz is desperately trying to avoid being questioned under oath,’ attorney for former players says in motion
IOWA CITY — A year after a judge let Hawkeye head football coach Kirk Ferentz and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz postpone until after the season their sworn depositions in a discrimination lawsuit from former players, the coaches haven’t sat for them and still are seeking to delay them.
“Kirk Ferentz is desperately trying to avoid being questioned under oath,” attorneys for seven former players argued last week in a motion fighting Ferentz’s request on Sept. 30 that the court halt his obligation to produce any more records or be deposed until a judge first rules on his motion to dismiss the case altogether.
“He again argues that he should not have to answer questions under oath about his conduct that is at the heart of this case until his qualified immunity argument is decided,” the player attorneys said in their response to Ferentz’s request, citing his argument that he’s immune from liability. “This is a tired act.”
The player attorneys told The Gazette they did depose former Hawkeye strength coach Chris Doyle on Tuesday and University of Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta on Wednesday.
“After more than a year of discovery delays caused by defendants, the depositions will take place on the University of Iowa’s campus, where scores of Black football players were subjected to anti-Black racism, discrimination, bullying, and abuse,” according to a statement from Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons.
The players — suing the UI, state Board of Regents, Kirk and Brian Ferentz, Barta, Doyle and linebackers coach Seth Wallace for discrimination, retaliation and systemic racism — filed their first complaint in November 2020 and amended it in January 2021.
Kirk Ferentz had asked the court to dismiss all claims against him, and a judge granted that request — dropping other counts and some defendants as well, until players filed a second amended complaint on Aug. 19 that added him back in.
All the defendants in the most recent complaint have asked the court to dismiss the suit or grant them immunity, given they’re public employees and arguing player claims are too vague, too broad and too late. A judge has not yet ruled on those motions.
In recent court filings, attorneys representing Kirk and Brian Ferentz showed both spent months trying to arrange depositions late last year and over the summer — including as a fact witness after Kirk Ferentz was removed from the lawsuit. But, given that never materialized, a judge in September told both sides to schedule depositions.
Doyle was to be deposed Monday, Kirk Ferentz on Tuesday, Barta on Wednesday and Brian Ferentz on Thursday, according to court documents filed Sept. 30 in U.S. District Court. The players notified the coaches of that timeline — despite their pushback — after the judge on Sept. 22 heard everyone’s argument and “nevertheless directed the parties to proceed with scheduling his deposition.”
But last week, according to player attorneys, both Kirk and Brian Ferentz “announced that those defendants would refuse to appear for their noticed depositions absent a ruling from the court on their qualified immunity arguments.”
“Rather than further delay discovery (which is the precise goal of the defendants Ferentz) and further burden the court with additional emergency motion practice, which the court would not have been able to resolve before the scheduled deposition,” the players opted to depose just Doyle and Barta this week, according to court filings.
In addition to the coaches and Barta, the players' list of people they want to question for sworn depositions include former UI President Bruce Harreld; Kirk Ferentz’s wife, Mary Ferentz; and Eileen Wixted, president of the public relations firm Wixted Inc., which helped the UI Athletics and Ferentz navigate accusations of systemic racism.
In trying to arrange deposition dates, according to court records, Ferentz’s personal attorney suggested the state could offer Barta and Doyle this week, along with Wixted, among other options “instead of K. Ferentz and B. Ferentz.”
The coaches, he said, are available for depositions the weeks of December 5 and 12 — more than a year after a judge agreed to let them postpone depositions because providing sworn testimony during the 2021 football season “would be too inconvenient.”
“Now, more than a year later, Kirk Ferentz yet again seeks to avoid going under oath,” according to the player attorneys, who said the coach’s willingness to have others deposed in his place is revealing.
“K. Ferentz all but admits that his motion is about delay more than it is about any purported immunity from the alleged ‘burdens of discovery,’” the player attorneys argued last week in asking a court to reject Ferentz’s request to halt the deposition. “While he decries discovery as unbearable, he has, for the past few months, already been willingly (although begrudgingly and almost always delinquently) participating in the discovery process … Thus, he appears actually to have no problem undertaking the burdens related to discovery, and he has no problem with depositions proceeding in the case. He just wants to avoid going under oath himself.”
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