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Suit over Arkansas dismissal may get 'ugly'

LITTLE ROCK -- Nolan Richardson gave a hint as to how nasty
his court fight against the University of Arkansas might be when
school officials asked him to resign the day before firing the
basketball coach in 2002.

According to notes athletic director Frank Broyles made after a
Feb. 28, 2002, meeting, Richardson told him: "I will destroy you.
You will have no legacy. I know enough on you that you will have no
legacy when I get through. I will have a better legacy than you
will."

Notes from Chancellor John A. White closely mirror Broyles'
recollection.

Richardson's lawsuit over his dismissal goes to trial Wednesday
in federal court after 1½ years of court filings and depositions. A
judge on Monday denied a final request by the university to dismiss
the lawsuit.

Richardson and his lawyer, John Walker of Little Rock, have said
little about the lawsuit since filing it Dec. 19, 2002, against the
university, White, Broyles, university system President B. Alan
Sugg and the Razorback Foundation, an athletic department
fund-raising arm.

"Right now, I have my eyes and head in one direction,"
Richardson said last year. "I feel that I am more of a
perfectionist and I am in a fight right now and I am going to fight
that fight."

Whether or not U.S. District Judge William R. Wilson Jr. allows
things to get ugly is another matter. Wilson has said he will rule
on the relevance of testimony as the trial progresses -- and he set
a 25-minute time limit on the lawyers' opening statements on
Wednesday.

Richardson wants Wilson, who will decide the non-jury trial, to
declare that the university punished him for exercising his freedom
of speech and subjected him to racial discrimination. Richardson
believes he was fired because he's black and for speaking out about
issues of race.

He seeks lost wages and damages for harm to his reputation,
mental and emotional stress, and legal fees. Richardson also seeks
reinstatement as coach, however, he said he wouldn't return if
White and Broyles still had their jobs.

Wilson denied a blanket motion by the university to exclude
evidence of football coach Houston Nutt's flirtation with Nebraska
and testimony from Supreme Court Justice Wendell Griffen and lawyer
Eugene McKissick. Griffen and McKissick, both Arkansas graduates,
have testified in their depositions about racial problems at the
university.

However, Wilson indicated he may not let Richardson's lawyers
present everything they want.

"I will rule on the evidence as it is proffered. Some of it may
be stale, some not," he wrote.

The trial is expected to last at least four weeks.

Richardson's base salary was $1.03 million and his firing called
for a buyout of $500,000 a year until 2008. He currently receives a
monthly check for $41,667.

The Razorback Foundation covers the buyout and has countersued.
It claims Richardson violated the buyout by suing -- and wants to
have the money returned.

The university claims it fired Richardson because he showed a
lack of faith in the program after saying publicly after a loss at
Kentucky that, "If they go ahead and pay me money, they can take
the job tomorrow."

Richardson repeated the statement two days later during the
Southeastern Conference coaches' teleconference and again during a
news conference at Bud Walton Arena.

During a meeting on Feb. 28 with White and Broyles, Richardson
spurned an offer to resign. Broyles wanted Richardson to stay in
the area and be an ambassador for the school.

"I'm not going to resign. You'll have to fire my ass,"
Richardson said, according to a memo White wrote. "I can't believe
you'd come in here and say these things without even asking me why
I said what I did. ... You haven't even given me a chance to
explain why I said those things."

Richardson has said he spoke about his job because he was
frustrated with criticism from fans and the media amid a losing
season.