The lawyer who represented two former University of Maryland football players last year after they were accused by a female student of sexual assault said Friday that he was hired by coach DJ Durkin and had “very minimal contact” with former athletic director Kevin Anderson throughout the process.
That counters what the university said in a statement Thursday, that Anderson was the one who used athletic department funds to hire the attorney.
In fact, Donald Maurice Jackson, a lawyer with Montgomery, Ala.-based The Sports Group, said Friday he was sent an email from Anderson about two weeks after taking over the case from another lawyer, informing him that Maryland was severing ties with him. Jackson said he had already been paid $15,000 by the football team and continued to represent the athletes.
On Thursday, a Maryland spokeswoman issued a statement that said the then-athletic director showed “poor judgment” in hiring a lawyer to represent athletes in a sexual assault case involving another student and said university president Wallace D. Loh ended the school’s association with the attorney after its then-executive athletic director, Damon Evans, notified him of an invoice from the attorney that had not been paid.
The statement did not mention either Anderson or Evans by name. Evans was since hired as the school’s athletic director. The statement was in response to a story about the case that was first published Thursday by The Diamondback, the university’s student newspaper.
The university’s Office of General Counsel followed with a statement Friday: “The lawyers continued to represent UMD football players (meeting their ethical obligations), perpetuating an unfair advantage for the accused over their accuser. Even after this inequitable situation was discovered and ordered to be stopped, it continued. This fact was not reported back to the university administration. If it had, other measures to remedy the inequity, such as providing an attorney for the other party, could have been taken.”
In an interview with The Baltimore Sun on Friday, Jackson said his involvement in the case with the two football players grew partly out of the fact that he was working on another eligibility case involving the amateur status of a men’s basketball player.
“I literally walked from the basketball arena over to the football office and sat for the remainder of the evening in the football office,” Jackson said. “My assumption was that everything had gone through channels and it was approved because I don’t even know how the football coaches knew I was even on campus involved in another case."
Jackson said he knew Durkin and members of his staff after helping a football player who had transferred from another school to Maryland regain his eligibility the previous year — going into Durkin’s first season.
Durkin, who was placed on administrative leave Aug. 11 after a damning story by ESPN on the “toxic” culture of the Maryland football program, could not immediately be reached for comment.
A month after taking over the case, Jackson said he received an email from Anderson on Sept. 15.
In a copy of the email Jackson sent to The Sun on Friday, Anderson wrote: “I appreciate your efforts and assistance regarding … our student athletes from the University of Maryland. Per our conversation, the athletic department will compensate you for all billable hours provided up to this point in time, however moving forward, the athletic department will not pay for any services pertaining to [the athletes]. Thank you for your understanding and assistance throughout the process.”
Jackson said, “I was essentially fired” by Maryland.
“At that point, I’ve got these two clients that I have an ethical and moral obligation to work on their behalf,” Jackson said Friday. “Am I going to walk off midstream and not represent these kids? The answer is, ‘No, I’m not going to do that.’ I continued to process. I continued to work. So I continued to work and I completed the process."
An athletic department spokeswoman said Thursday night that the attorney had been paid through the athletic director’s discretionary fund, but Jackson said: “I was under the impression it was coming from the football budget because DJ was the person that I worked with as far as structuring all of this. Kevin was not involved in any of this. I had periodic contact with Kevin about the basketball player’s case and that’s all. There was fairly infrequent contact on that case.”
Anderson was not at Maryland when the case concluded. Sources said that in late September, Anderson was informed by Loh to not come back to his office at Xfinity Center. A few weeks later, Anderson started a six-month sabbatical. He resigned in mid-April.
Jackson said he was the second attorney to be involved with the two football players in the accused sexual assault, and the investigation into the allegations from the female student had started in June 2017. Jackson said he typically does not take on cases after they begin, and certainly not toward the end.
In the statement sent out by the university Thursday night, it was said that the executive athletic director at the time — Evans — only learned of the arrangement after noticing the invoice to Jackson had not been paid and that he immediately notified Loh’s office.
Given that Evans was present at the first meeting about the former football player’s eligibility in 2016, and that part of Evans’ duties as the executive athletic director and acting director was to oversee the football program, Jackson said he is surprised the university is not finding Evans culpable.
“I find it virtually impossible to believe that Damon Evans was not aware that I was representing these football student-athletes, either that day or immediately following that," Jackson said. “It’s not like I was walking around the University of Maryland campus under the cloak of darkness with a mask on. I was on that campus several times.”
Durkin, who was entering his third season as the Terps football coach, remains on leave in the wake of 19-year-old football player Jordan McNair’s death from heatstroke June 13 and the media reports about the football program. External investigations into the circumstances surrounding McNair’s death and the football culture at Maryland are ongoing.