EXCLUSIVE | Tom Jurich breaks silence in interview with WDRB News

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) --  While the University of Louisville trustees remain silent on why they fired longtime athletics director Tom Jurich last week, the university also refuses to disclose an internal memo that might shed light on tensions between Jurich and senior members of the U of L administration such as interim President Greg Postel.

The Aug. 31 letter from General Counsel Leslie Strohm, the university’s top in-house lawyer, to Jurich outlines the administration’s problems with how Jurich executed a 10-year, $160 million extension of the school’s apparel sponsorship with Adidas earlier that month.

The existence of the letter was confirmed last week in a set of documents that Jurich’s attorney made public ahead of the Oct. 18 trustees meeting in which Jurich was fired.

But when WDRB News requested a copy of Strohm’s letter under the Kentucky Open Records Act, the university declined to provide it, saying the letter is protected by attorney-client privilege.

Much of the letter’s content can be inferred from a six-page response that Jurich sent to Strohm and Postel on Sept. 1. Jurich’s attorney included the response, but not the original memo, in the materials made public last week.

In addition to posing questions about the finer points of the sponsorship deal, Strohm apparently charged that Jurich failed to keep the administration in the loop before agreeing to the extension with Adidas – an assertion Jurich has rejected.

“I am befuddled to learn that you or no one in Grawemeyer Hall were aware or without knowledge of this historic agreement,” Jurich wrote in his Sept. 1 response. “… we could not have an agreement without the effort of many, including that of the administration.”

Postel’s displeasure with Jurich’s handling of the Adidas deal was no secret. In placing Jurich on leave on Sept. 27, Postel said the deal was completed “without timely or appropriate consultation” with him or the university’s athletics board.

But the Aug. 31 letter from Strohm appears to address the alleged shortcomings in greater detail.

Amye Bensenhaver, an attorney and director of the Center for Open Government at the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, questioned the university’s use of attorney-client privilege to withhold the letter from the public.

While Strohm is an attorney, the letter appears to address internal issues, rather than analyzing any legal dispute involving the university.

“Just the fact that an attorney wrote it doesn’t shield it under the attorney-client privilege,” said Bensenhaver, who adjudicated public records disputes for 25 years at the Kentucky Attorney General’s office.

The university can hardly argue that the letter’s disclosure would harm its case in a potential dispute with Jurich over his firing, Bensenhaver said. After all, the letter was addressed to Jurich, she said.

She added that public agencies such as universities often over-apply the attorney-client privilege to shield records from the public.

“This became kind of the default position for agencies when they can’t find another exemption” to keep records secret, she said.

U of L spokesman John Karman declined to comment for this story.

The trustees fired Jurich “for cause” in the wake of a federal criminal complaint charging that at least one Louisville men’s basketball coach was complicit in a scheme to funnel $100,000 from Adidas to the family of a top recruit last summer.

The allegation comes on top of major penalties handed down by the NCAA earlier this year related to an escort scandal in the basketball program from 2010-2014.

But the trustees did not specify how Jurich failed to live up to his employment contract, and the board’s chairman declined to speak to reporters following the meeting.

The university has not yet released documentation associated with Jurich’s firing.    

Here is Jurich’s Sept. 1 response to Strohm’s memo:

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2017 WDRB News. All rights reserved.