Fernley coach suing for defamation of character
Sun News Service
Fernley High football coach Mark Hodges is suing the Lyon County School District for defamation of character.
The Sierra Nevada Sports Media Group received a copy of the complaint for damages on Thursday.
Hodges will file his complaint in the Third Judicial District Court in Yerington, said his Reno attorney, Kenneth J. McKenna.
As of Thursday afternoon, district court had not received the paperwork.
In his lawsuit, Hodges claims the school district supplied information to a Reno television station, KRNV, stating the Fernley football coach’s contract would not be extended because of a Fernley player’s hoax about being recruited by a major university and fiscal irresponsibility.
“His contention is that school board leaked out information,” McKenna said. “It was a way to deflect their responsibility. There is no blame with Channel 4 because they received information from the authorities.”
School district personnel would not comment on the pending lawsuit.
McKenna said he hoped the school district would not discuss Hodges coaching at its Feb. 19 meeting. However, according to the school district, the special meeting will center on the hiring of legal counsel. The next regularly scheduled meeting is Feb. 26.
The recruiting hoax involves Kevin Hart, a 6-foot-5, 285-pound lineman who supposedly was recruited by five major universities. At a Feb. 1 assembly, Hart announced he was going to attend the University of California. One day later, Web sites that cover Cal Bears sports questioned Hart’s intent to play for the university.
On Feb. 6 in a statement released through the school district, Hart admitted his story was a lie.
KRNV also reported Fernley football coaches were alerted by an e-mail from Cal offensive coach Jim Michalczik that Hart had not been offered a letter of intent or any other scholarship.
Additionally, information supplied to KRNV Sports Director Bryan Samudio reported Hodges spent $26,000 in unauthorized funds on two new sets of football uniforms.
“The statement of fiscal irresponsibility and the Kevin Hart matter created the insinuation he (Hodges) was a conspirator with Kevin Hart,” McKenna said.
McKenna said the minimum amount to file a complaint in court is $10,000.
“The jury can award from nothing to hundreds of thousands of dollars,” McKenna said.
However, according to the complaint, Hodges is also asking for past loss of benefits, future loss of earnings and/or loss of earning capacity, punitive damages, reasonable attorney fees and costs of the suit, and additional damages as deemed by the court.
Hodges, who has coached the Vaqueros program for three years, names Superintendent Nat Lommori and every member of the school board as defendants.
“The lawsuit is a combination of claims,” McKenna said.
In his lawsuit, Hodges also claims the school board was careless in its legal duty in the way it conducted an investigation into Hart’s recruitment, failed to exercise due care in handling confidential personnel matters and to exercise reasonable and prudent care during its internal meetings, committed acts of negligence by reporting information that the coach was directly involved in the player’s alleged hoax and disseminated libelous information to the media that has injured the reputation of the coach.
McKenna said Hodges is anxious to have his good reputation restored.
The Lyon County Sheriff’s Office will wrap up its report on Hart and submit it to the district attorney’s office next week.
“I’ll write up a synopsis and file the report,” Detective Lt. Rob Hall said Thursday.
Originally, Hall wanted Hart to meet with him to discuss the lie. Later, Hart’s attorney said the Fernley senior would file a written report. Hall said he never received it.
“I haven’t heard from Kevin, but I have a statement from the school district administration,” Hall said.
As Hart’s recruitment story began to unravel, deputies took an initial report on Feb. 2 from Hart. He said someone by the name of Kevin Riley acted as a middle man in the recruiting process. According to the report, Hart told a deputy the recruiter told the Fernley student there were scholarship offers available to the all-league player.
Through a school district statement issued on National Signing Day on Feb. 6, Hart admitted his story was a hoax.
If the investigation had occurred, Hall said at the time detectives would have reviewed the allegations and tried to corroborate as much information as possible among those involved.
“We’ll request the district attorney to review and weigh up the circumstances,” Hall said, adding that Hart could be charged with filing a false report.