Judge grants restraining order allowing Ma'lik Richmond to play - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Judge grants restraining order allowing Ma'lik Richmond to play

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -

A hearing that began in Youngstown Federal Court at 3:00 pm Thursday went on behind closed doors for more than three hours as the two sides negotiated in Ma'lik Richmond versus Youngstown State University.

U.S. District Judge Benita Pearson ruled late Thursday evening that the embattled football player can temporarily play in YSU football games until a more permanent decision can be made. 

The embattled football player is suing YSU to prevent the team from continuing to bench him during the 2017 season. 

Richmond is accusing YSU of violating his civil rights. He says the university is causing him to lose a year of NCAA eligibility, and miss out on the opportunity to possibly win a scholarship, and he believes his rights under Title IX are being violated.

Richmond walked into federal court in downtown Youngstown with his two Cleveland attorneys and his guardians, and YSU was represented by three attorneys from the Ohio Attorney General's Office.

Richmond's attorney presented the claim that YSU had "attempted to rewrite history", saying that the status quo was that he was active on the team, and was playing as part of the team; until the university felt pressure from community members in August. 

Attorneys for Richmond said that since he was paying tuition, and was an enrolled student partaking in classes and extracurricular activities, Ma'lik should have been protected by the student and athletic handbooks, which should have guaranteed him some notice of his removal from the team. However, they say Ma'Lik did not find out he wasn't being permitted to play in games until the university issued a statement. 

"They did not follow their handbook they just essentially punished him without any notice, without a hearing, without him being able to have an adviser," said Richmond's Attorney Susan Stone.

They went on to say that there should be a grave amount of public interest in making sure that universities are accountable to the students they hold contracts with, and cannot change the story to suit their own purposes. 

However, an attorney for the university, Christina Corl, said that there is no evidence that Ma'lik Richmond was discriminated against based on his gender, as claimed in the original court filing. 

When YSU's defense argued that Ma'lik Richmond could not argue that he would suffer irreparable harm if he lost the 2017 year of eligible play, Judge Pearson stopped them, saying that losing games in the season could count as irreparable harm.

Judge Pearson said that the claim could be made because Ma'lik would never get the chance to play the particular teams, on those particular days, in this particular condition. 

Atty. Corl went on to say that the Ohio Administrative Code, a compendium of laws and guidelines regulating Ohio's administrative agencies, states that the president of any university has final say on all decisions regarding athletics (OAC 3356-6-02 Section B(1)). 

However, Judge Pearson once again stopped counsel short, arguing President Tressel does not call huddles for YSU football, does not dictate which players play in certain positions, and does not make day to day decisions for the athletics department. 

"When else has he reached down and extended that authority on to the football team," she questioned. 

While delivering her ruling Judge Pearson said that the question of irreparable harm can be continued to question the public nature of removal. She argued that given the ramifications of how the university removed Ma'lik from the team, without first notifying him, in a statement that repeatedly praised him, must be answered. Judge Pearson argued that it must be seen if Ma'lik could remove the stain that had been left by that statement. 

That statement can be viewed here: YSU issues statement on convicted rapist's football position

Given the nature of the community and the important role YSU plays in it, Judge Pearson admitted that there will inevitably be some effect on the community. 

"There is a great public interest in having law and order upheld. There is great public interest in having students study in a safe environment," however, she continued to say "There should also be great public interest in keeping promises and our universities upholding contracts with their students." 

YSU President Jim Tressel was not present at the hearing.  But earlier in the day 21 News caught up with him at the Mahoning County Courthouse where he told us he was not going to make any comment on the lawsuit.

This is all as a result of YSU deciding to bench Richmond this season shortly after an online petition drive garnered over 6,000 signatures asking that he be removed from the team.

That petition, attorneys for Richmond say, was invalid because it talked about rape and assault on YSU's campus, which never happened.

His attorneys continue to say that even the university admits that he was in good academic standing, good athletic standing, and was striving to be a valuable part of YSU's campus, and so there should be no disciplinary action taken against him. 

Richmond, according to the university, also received numerous death threats because of his previous rape conviction as a teenager at Steubenville High School.  He served one year in a juvenile detention facility for his crime.

It was a controversial, highly publicized case that was initially discovered because of a cell phone recording from a party that went viral.

In a response from YSU's attorneys to the court, they say quote:  

No good deed goes unpunished.  Youngstown State University has been hauled into court by a student that YSU has bent over backward to assist, support and provide a second chance when no one else would.  The rest of the world had written Plaintiff off as an unrepentant rapist.

The next court date for Richmond's case has been set for September 28th at 2 pm Up until that point, Judge Pearson has ruled that YSU cannot bar Ma'Lik Richmond from playing in football games. 

21 News reached out to YSU for a comment in response to the judge's temporary ruling. A university spokesperson said, "We're obviously aware of the ruling. But, being that the case is still part of ongoing litigation, we are going to continue reserving any public comment at this time."

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