Lax hoax: discovery against Duke apparently underway. Brodhead, Steel face grilling under oath

✔✔Good day fellow Dukies. There are two developments in the lacrosse hoax.

We believe the all-important pre-trial discovery process may have begun against Duke University.

And we have spotted some more snippets of information about the extremely high price that Duke has had to pay because of the missteps of the Brodhead Administration.

Let's do the financial angle first. To review what we have learned, before we get to the latest:

--There can be no doubt that donations fell substantially and have yet to rebound. This is true whether measured by dollars or number of donors.

-- We know there were secret settlements with Coach Pressler, on his contract and on the slander committed by a top Brodhead official. And settlements by Duke with the three players who were indicted. The most common figure we hear is $6 to $8 million each; we think the figure in the $18 to $20 million range, derived from extrapolation of an erroneous tax bill sent to Reid Seligmann, is wrong.

--There can be no doubt lawyers have sucked every dime they could. We can confirm one: Jamie Gorelick of Washington, billing the university for $2 million in fees -- plus expenses -- in one year alone. Duke's legal bills in some years have been triple what they were before the lies of the prostitute and the prosecutor.

-- Duke has some insurance to cover some settlements and some legal fees, and it got into a dispute with the insurance giant AIG. We should say corrupt giant AIG because it's been riddled with stench. The just-released IRS Form 990 -- a window of transparency required by federal law to hopefully make tax-free nonprofits more accountable -- shows that in the 2009-10 year, Duke reversed expenditures reported a year earlier for legal fees related to "programs."

The swing was just over $4 million -- which we believe was the settlement -- or part of the settlement with AIG on legal fees.

-- The latest form 990 -- which Loyal Readers will recognize is almost a year out of date since Duke deliberately delays these filings -- also indicates that for a second year in a row, Duke's legal fees for "management" (just one classification for the fees) worked out to precisely $5,762,993. We interpret that to mean Duke is not reporting actual year to year expenses but rather has created an imaginary pool and is making level withdrawals each year. That's a nice way to disguise what's really going on.

✔✔ We said the University offers no help, and we shall explain.

John Burness was senior vice president for PR for many years. He is best remembered for putting out a news release that was a damn lie: that Coach Pressler had quit, leaving his team in an hour of crisis -- when in fact he had been fired. (Brodhead said at a news conference where the "resignation" was announced -- knowing this was a lie -- that the action by the coach was "highly appropriate.")

Second, Burness is known for slandering Coach Pressler after he left Duke. In a civil suit, the judge asked aloud how anyone could be "so dumb" to say the things Burness did.

Less well known is the Burness Doctrine, which he formulated by the seat of his pants as news coverage heated up in the lax hoax. It was in part his reaction to early Fact Checker reporting.

The doctrine explains why we cannot confirm our numbers, that we must scratch and sniff and estimate.

Burness decided that only reporters from the Chronicle -- he said the student paper was different because it is a learning experience for undergraduates -- could get "extra help" and that everyone else couldn't. That was new policy. No questions, no answers.

This was embraced by Burness's acolyte, Michael Schoenfeld of Vanderbilt University, who was to succeed Burness, curiously taking a job that would pay him -- according to our informed calculations -- only half what he had been earning. In practice, Schoenfeld does help any reporters he considers friendly, ignoring you know who.

So that's why today we sit here telling Loyal Readers we assume the $4 million swing was due to reimbursement of legal expenses that was previously so uncertain that it could not be reflected on the books.

✔✔ Now on the discovery phase of the trial. Imagine three separate lawsuits, thirty or more plaintiffs plus their parents, a city and a university, plus a cast of characters ranging from the disgraced and disbarred prosecutor Michael Nifong to the rape nurse in training Tara Levicy who created medical stories for Crystal Gail Mangum, as if her vivid imagination needed help.

Oh yes, teams of lawyers all billing by the hour. In the latest tangle in the litigation, the judge is letting the city of Durham appeal an order that let the plaintiffs begin the discovery process -- that is, letting Durham delay the plaintiffs who want to begin to question witnesses and acquiring documents prior to trial. Local government can appeal such an interim order; Duke was not eligible to do so, which is why it is on the sidelines here.

But in some respects this puts discovery against Duke on hold too.

In some respects. The judge ruled discovery against Duke can go forward if not "intertwined" with Durham's defense.

This is the moment that Duke has fought to avoid with all its financial might. The number one goal of Duke's defense is to keep Brodhead and former Trustee chair Bob Steel from having to tell their stories -- and be questioned about their stories -- under oath.

No small coincidence. that in the slander lawsuit by Coach Pressler, Duke upped its offer significantly and settled the night before Burness was due for his deposition.

6-13-45. Forever.

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