By Tim Eberly
A district judge today temporarily reinstated suspended coach Kevin Emerick in his position as the head women's basektball coach at Montana State University-Northern.
District Judge Marc Buyske said he reinstated the coach so Emerick could go through university greivance procedures to fight his suspension.
Buyske also ordered the university to release to Emerick a university report about Emerick's relationship with a former player who is now his girlfriend. He also ordered MSU-N to disclose to Emerick the reasons for its decision to suspend him and not renew his contract, and instructed university officials to give Emerick the full opportunity to defend himself during his administrative appeal with the college.
"I feel like we had a strong position legally and morally," Emerick said immediately following the court session. "I'm glad to be back coaching at Northern and we have a lot of work to do. This team has basically had three weeks without a head coach."
Emerick said he would return to his position tonight, when the Skylights host Westminster College at 6 p.m.
MSU-N Chancellor Alex Capdeville and MSU's attorney, Leslie Taylor, both declined comment.
A few minutes before Buyske returned from his hour-and-a-half recess, eight members of the Skylights filed into the courtroom prompting a smile from Emerick to hear the judge's decision.
Capdeville suspended Emerick from his job with pay on Dec. 12. Emerick was suspended after Capdeville reviewed the results of an investigation he'd ordered after Emerick had accused a former assistant coach of sexual misconduct.
In an e-mail sent to about 100 MSU-N faculty members and staffers, Emerick alleged that Jerry Wier, now an employee of the MSU-N Foundation, had inappropiate sexual contact with a player Wier had recruited. The player was Anna Fabatz, who is now Emerick's girlfriend. She played on Emerick's team during her fourth and final season in 2000-01.
Corky Bush, MSU-Bozeman's human resources director for affirmative action, issued two reports, one addressing Emerick's complaint and the other Emerick's conduct with Fabatz. Neither report has been made public. Wier has denied Emerick's accusations.
In a civil suit filed Dec. 20, Emerick argued hat the university had deprived him of due process by failing to notify him of an official complaint against him and failing to provide him with an official cause for his dismissal.
He also said the university's action had damaged his coaching career.
District Judge John Warner last month ordered MSU-N to explain at a hearing why Emerick should not get his job back. Buyske of Toole County presided at the hearing today after Warner removed himself from the case at Emerick's request.
At this morning's hearing, Emerick's attorney, Robert Peterson, said Emerick has not had an opportunity to see Bush's report or to confront the people who provided information about him. Peterson also questioned the fact that none of the people interviewed were sworn in under oath.
"That's what due process is all about," Peterson said. "There were no rules or guidelines that have been shown as to how that investigation should proceed."
Repeatedly referring to the 41-year-old Emerick as "this young coach," Peterson said his mid-season suspension would be a "death blow" to his career.
At one point, Peterson held up a copy of an article that ran in the Havre Daily News as evidence of negative publicity about Emerick's removal as the Skylights' coach.
"We have a young coach who has been pulled off the bench and has that stigma attached to him ... and his season is over in two months," Peterson said.
Leslie Taylor, an attorney for MSU-N, told Buyske that Emerick was not denied due process. She said he had the opportunity to file a request for an administrative appeal with the college but had not done so.
"There has been no grievance filed internally," Taylor said.
Taylor also said Emerick's claim of irreparable damage could not be proven since he had made no attempt to find employment elsewhere. She also said other coaches have been removed from their jobs in midseason without having a stigma attached to them.
Taylor said she was prepared to release the report about Emerick and Fabatz to Emerick, provided it would not be released to the general public because the college feared lawsuits from people other than the main parties included in the report. But, she said, Emerick refused to sign a release that would prohibit him from sharing the report with anyone else.
Peterson told the judge he was prepared to put witnesses on the stand to testify in Emerick's defense. Fabatz, Skylights interim head coach Joan Steffen and athletic director Ted Spatkowski were subpoenaed for the hearing. Taylor said she did not wish to put anyone on the stand.
Until Buyske's ruling, Fabatz remained outside the courtroom, in the third floor lobby of the courthouse.