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The lawyer representing a University of Montana student who accused Grizzlies starting quarterback Jordan Johnson of sexual assault believes the university’s decision to allow Johnson to resume spring drills with the team stems from a legal misunderstanding.

UM kept Johnson out of practice after the restraining order was filed, citing the section of the new Student-Athlete Conduct Code that imposes such sanctions when a student-athlete “is found to have engaged in conduct that is deemed inappropriate, reckless, inciting, or malicious which brings embarrassment to the team, the Department of Athletics, or the campus, community.”

The woman took out a temporary restraining order against Johnson on March 9, citing sexual assault as the reason. A police report filed March 16 alleges a Feb. 4 rape and the police investigation into that accusation continues. Through his attorney, David Paoli, Johnson has denied the allegation.

Last Friday, the restraining order was dismissed in favor of a civil no-contact order that forbids any contact between Johnson and the woman, and orders Johnson not to come within 1,500 feet of the woman or try to contact her – the same provisions in the temporary restraining order.

Johnson returned to practice Saturday. “When the TRO was dissolved, there really was nothing from a legal standpoint,” Jean Gee, UM’s senior associated athletic director, told the Missoulian.

“As I hope you recognize now, that statement is completely wrong,” Josh Van de Wetering, who represents Johnson’s accuser, wrote to Gee this week. Van de Wetering copied the letter to Johnson’s attorney David Paoli, as well as to the Missoulian.

Paoli said in an email Wednesday that he saw no benefit “to either of these young people to keep this in the press.” Neither Gee nor UM Vice President Jim Foley returned calls for comment Wednesday.

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Van de Wetering wrote: “Whether or not Mr. Johnson is permitted to play football is not my client’s concern (though the head coach’s comments about Mr. Johnson’s superior character, even after knowing there is an active rape investigation proceeding against him, leaves my client less than confident in the university’s commitment to protect her and respect the court’s no-contact order).”

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The day Johnson returned to practice, head coach Robin Pflugrad told the Missoulian that he welcomed the quarterback’s return and that “I think any time you have a person of Jordy’s character and tremendous moral fiber, and he’s your team captain and part of the leadership council, your players are going to be fired up.”

Van de Wetering wrote that the story in Sunday’s Missoulian that quoted Gee and Pflugard “suggests that the Athletic Department’s decision to reinstate Mr. Johnson is based at least in part on your misunderstanding of the legal process against Mr. Johnson,” and urged the university to review its conclusions.

Paoli said in his email Wednesday: “The no-contact order was a product of an agreement between the alleged victim’s personal attorney and myself, on behalf of my client. Her attorney and I met and worked out the terms and stipulated to them. As the stipulation and the order says, they have had no contact whatsoever, and don’t intend to have any.”

There’s no expiration date on the civil no-contact order, signed by Missoula Municipal Court Judge Kathleen Jenks. Any violation would be dealt with as contempt of court.

Reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, gwen.florio@missoulian.com, or on Twitter @CopsAndCourts.

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