Penders a target of two suits

Two weeks ago, men’s basketball Coach Tom Penders was added to two lawsuits, both stemming from the controversy that ended his 10-year tenure at the University of Texas.

In March of 1998, an unofficial grade report on Longhorn freshman Luke Axtell was faxed to Austin, Texas, radio station KVET while Penders was on vacation in the Caribbean.

Penders had suspended Axtell for academic and other reasons and had given his assistant Coach Eddie Oran the freedom to go on the local radio shows and defend the move. At the time, Oran took the blame for the fax, which may or may not have violated the Buckley Amendment, which protects a student’s right to privacy.

On March 15, Axtell added the University, Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds and Penders to a lawsuit he has had against KVET in the courts for more than a year. Depositions were taken (but not from Penders) in August of 1999.

Dodds and Penders were not added to the lawsuit by name, but in their official positions as athletic director and coach at the time. Axtell seeks unspecified damages and accuses Penders of violating his right to privacy by releasing the grade report. The lawsuit alleges Penders orchestrated the release and Dodds knew of it.

Oran, who said in his deposition for Axtell’s case that Penders ordered him to send the fax, filed his own suit March 17, alleging slander and libel on the part of Penders in the days after the controversy. Oran, who now sells cars in the Austin area, seeks unspecified damages from Penders for his loss of income, loss of employment at UT, personal humiliation, mental anguish and suffering.

Penders continues to deny having any role in the faxing of Axtell’s grades and denies ever slandering or libeling Oran. He said Wednesday he hasn’t been served with papers or anything yet.

I’m not really concerned about it, he said. He added that he’s letting his attorneys in Austin take care of the matter.

The athletic administration at GW continues to support Penders and his side of the story.

The lawsuits come in the wake of the recent publication of Burned Orange: Tom Penders and 10 Years at the University of Texas by Kyle Dalton. The exhaustive book almost completely supports Penders’ version of events.

That book is damn accurate, Penders said. It was an honest, thorough book. At times, I had to put it down because it was so accurate.

(Dalton) didn’t set out to tell my side of the story. I’m not involved in it other than I was interviewed. If I were calling the shots, some of that stuff wouldn’t have been in there, but it’s a very good book . The book says it all.

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