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Ohio State Football and Our Broken Justice System Have a Lot in Common

By       Message Roger Shuler     Permalink
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Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer

One of the most precipitous falls in the history of college athletics is unfolding now in Columbus, Ohio. Enough sleaze already has surfaced in the Ohio State University football program to force long-time coach Jim Tressel to resign. With reports of star players driving snazzy sports cars, the sludge is likely to get deeper in the land of the Buckeyes.

The most thorough overview of the Ohio State scandal can be found as the cover story in this week's Sports Illustrated. In a 10-page spread titled "How Deep It Went: An SI Investigation Reveals the Full Extent To Which Jim Tressel Lost Control Of The Buckeyes," reporters George Dohrmann and David Epstein reveal that the coach's lax relationship with the NCAA rule book goes back more than two decades.

Tressel won championships at Ohio State, and in his previous stop at Youngstown State, so administrators were happy to look the other way, ignoring clear signs that the coach's programs were built on a foundation of non-compliance with NCAA rules.

In that respect, and several others, the Ohio State football story reminds me of the U.S. justice system--another mammoth enterprise that chugs along, while those in authority ignore obvious signs of decay. In reading Sports Illustrated's splendid cover story--Dohrmann has become one of the best investigative reporters in journalism--I was struck by several themes that I've seen play out during my unpleasant, 10-year journey through the American court system.

Let's consider three themes that show up time and again--at Ohio State and in my story of battling a groundless lawsuit here in Shelby County, Alabama: (1) Phony use of religion; (2) Weak oversight; (3) Blaming the victims.

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Phony use of religion--SI writes about Tressel's regular references to religion during his rise to the top of the college-football world, noting that he "wore his Christian values on his sweater vest." The coach had such a Boy-Scout image that he acquired the nickname "The Senator." Tressel often used the Bible as a prop for his coaching career, but SI uncovered signs of Tressel's slippery ethics going back to the mid 1980s, when he was an assistant coach at Ohio State:

One of Tressel's duties then was to organize and run the Buckeyes' summer camp. Most of the young players who attended it would never play college football, but a few were top prospects whom Ohio State was recruiting. At the end of camp, attendees bought tickets to a raffle with prizes such as cleats and a jersey. According to his fellow assistant, Tressel rigged the raffle so that the elite prospects won--a potential violation of NCAA rules.

That episode was not nearly as serious as the recent violations while Tressel was OSU's head coach. But it speaks volumes about Tressel's two-faced nature:

Says the former colleague, who asked not to be identified because he still has ties to the Ohio State community, "In the morning he would read the Bible with another coach. Then, in the afternoon, he would go out and cheat kids who had probably saved up money from mowing lawns to buy those raffle tickets. That's Jim Tressel."

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That's also quite a few of the people I've encountered in the legal world. One of my own attorneys, Richard Poff, gave me a business card with a cross on it. Poff then took $4,500 as a retainer and proceeded to do almost no work on my case, not the first drop of discovery. (Poff, by the way, no longer shows up as a member of the Alabama State Bar. His wife, Christina Mosca Poff, still appears on the bar's roster, which indicates her husband probably still lives her. I know a man named Gregory Dennis, and possibly others, had filed a bar complaint against Richard Poff. It's possible that Richard Poff has been disbarred, although I haven't found an official announcement. Such an outcome certainly would not surprise me.)

Let's consider J. Michael Joiner, the Shelby County circuit judge who probably is the individual most responsible for the cheat job Mrs. Schnauzer and I have experienced. (Joiner recently was appointed to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals by new Governor Robert Bentley, who is from Joiner's former home base, Columbiana, Alabama.) After our troublesome neighbor, Mike McGarity, filed a lawsuit against me, my lawyers filed multiple motions for summary judgment (MSJs) because we had probably eight to 10 grounds for dismissal. (McGarity's primary claim was for malicious prosecution, claiming I swore out a criminal-trespass claim against him without probable cause. Malicious prosecution is a disfavored tort, and McGarity had no evidence to support it, mainly because he admitted to trespassing during the criminal trial. In other words, I had not only probable cause, I had actual cause. Hard to build a malicious prosecution case on that.)

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I live in Birmingham, Alabama, and work in higher education. I became interested in justice-related issues after experiencing gross judicial corruption in Alabama state courts. This corruption has a strong political component. The corrupt judges are (more...)

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