Archive for Friday, January 18, 2002

Former basketball player sued Texas over release of academic records

January 18, 2002


— Former Texas basketball player Luke Axtell lost his appeal Thursday of the dismissal of a lawsuit over the release of some his academic records after his suspension in 1998.

Axtell, who later transferred to Kansas, had alleged he suffered mental anguish and public embarrassment and contempt with the release. He sought unspecified damages.

The 3rd State Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court's dismissal of his lawsuit against the university, athletics director DeLoss Dodds and former basketball coach Tom Penders.

The 6-foot-10 forward was a freshman basketball player at Texas during the 1997-98 academic year until he was suspended on March 17, 1998, for alleged academic deficiencies. The Austin American-Statesman reported the suspension of Axtell and others and also related that several players were disgruntled with Penders.

The following day, a fax message containing a portion of Axtell's educational records, confidential by law, was sent from the men's basketball office to radio stations KVET and KJFK. KVET subsequently broadcast the information.

The university later said Axtell was in good academic standing and the grade report was incorrect.

Axtell's lawyer, Sheryl Rasmus of Austin, had argued that the state district court in Austin erred in granting the university's claim of governmental immunity.

Rasmus argued that UT waived its immunity by using "tangible personal property" a fax machine in the release of Axtell's grades to the two radio stations.

In its ruling, the state appeals court said the negligence alleged by Axtell "was not in the manner of the university's release of the records, but in the fact of its release of the records. The fax machine did not create information ... it merely transmitted it."

Axtell would have suffered the same injury, the court said, had the confidential information been conveyed to the station manager by telephone, by mail or by hand delivery.

Axtell also sued Capstar Texas Limited Partnership, the parent company of KVET.

Penders left Texas after the dispute, accepting a $900,000 settlement on his $2.2 million contract.

Former Longhorns assistant Eddie Oran took the blame for releasing the grades and lost a week's salary as discipline.

Penders denied any role in releasing the grades, saying the grade release "was all a facade to get me out."

Axtell sat out a year after transferring to Kansas and his career never got off the ground again. He broke a bone in the preseason and missed the last 14 games because of a degenerative disc in his lower back and also suffered from an undisclosed medical condition.

His college basketball career ended in March 2001, his senior year, because of lingering back problems.

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