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Monongalia judge refuses to halt Big East lawsuit

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A judge has refused to put West Virginia University's lawsuit against the Big East on hold while the conference's countersuit plays out in Rhode Island, saying he does not believe it will serve the interests of justice.

In a ruling issued Tuesday, Monongalia Circuit Judge Russell Clawges said WVU's lawsuit was filed first and is set for trial, while no trial is scheduled in Rhode Island.

Clawges also denied the Big East's request to dismiss WVU's lawsuit, which argued that there is a more convenient forum for the litigation. He said the Big East's bylaws do not contain provisions addressing where disputes should be resolved.

"Interestingly, the Big East is a corporation formed in the District of Columbia and the parties contend the District of Columbia law applies to the resolution of the disputes between the parties,'' Clawges wrote. "Neither party is contending that the District of Columbia is the appropriate forum for this action, although it would at least provide both parties with a neutral court, as would the Madison Square Garden, I suppose.''

Seth Hayes, a lawyer for WVU, said the plaintiff's attorneys did not see the ruling until Wednesday morning and could not comment. Benjamin Block, an attorney for the Big East, did not immediately return a telephone message Wednesday seeking comment.

The Dominion Post first reported Clawges' ruling.

WVU is seeking to speed up its exit from the Big East and join the Big 12 in time for the 2012 football season. Its lawsuit, filed in November, contends that the conference violated its responsibility to members by failing to balance the number of football-playing and nonfootball-playing schools.

The Big East countersued in Rhode Island four days later. The league claims WVU breached its contract with the conference and should remain in the Big East for about two more years, as required in the bylaws.

Clawges said there will not be unreasonable duplication or "proliferation of litigation'' if WVU's case proceeds in West Virginia. The trial is set for June 25.

"Big East has caused an unreasonable duplication of litigation by filing suit in Rhode Island after this action was filed in West Virginia. There is no reason all claims of the parties against each other cannot be resolved in one forum,'' the judge wrote.

In December, a Rhode Island judge denied WVU's request to dismiss the Big East's lawsuit. He has since ordered the parties into nonbinding mediation and scheduled a status conference for Feb. 9.

 


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