This offseason, a Florida State disciplinary board declined to neither expel Chris Casher from the university nor dismiss him from the football program in connection to the alleged sexual assault involving Jameis Winston. That doesn’t mean, though, that the defensive end’s off-field issues are a thing of the past.
According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Casher is being sued by his attorney for unpaid legal fees connected to student code of conduct case. Casher, the suit filed Oct. 1 states, had agreed to pay the lawyer, Adam Ellis, $2,500 for representation at the May hearing. Ellis claims that he has received nothing in the form of a payment from the player.
Repeated attempts to reach Casher, who was placed on probation for a year by the board, and his father have been unsuccessful, the attorney stated in a July letter.
“Morris Parnell & Ellis provided legal services as agreed and represented you at the hearing,” Ellis wrote to Casher in that letter. “The hearing was a success and you were not suspended or expelled from school, and you will be permitted to continue playing on the football team.”
Because of NCAA bylaws, it appears FSU has no recourse in aiding Casher with his legal fees.
Casher’s appearance in front of the school’s disciplinary board was not a matter of eligibility. Winston, on the other hand, could lean on the school for any legal costs that may be incurred in connection to the looming autograph situation as his eligibility, at least in part, would be in jeopardy.
It appears, though, FSU can’t assist the quarterback with any legal fees stemming from the alleged sexual assault and his disciplinary hearing appearance. Whether Winston or someone else connected to him is paying his high-profile advisor, attorney David Cornwell, or if he’s receiving the service pro bono is unknown and a question that we, like Feldman, have been asked about on numerous occasions.
What is known is that Winston, or any other student-athlete for that matter, is permitted to receive pro bono legal assistance… with on proviso: per NCAA bylaw 16.02.3, benefits such as free legal counsel are “not a violation if it is demonstrated that the same general benefit is available to the institution’s students, their relatives, and friends determined on a basis unrelated to athletics ability.” And then there’s this from a 2013 Wall Street Journal profile of Huntley Johnson, the go-to attorney for Florida Gator student-athletes, particularly football players, who find themselves on the wrong side of the law.
The NCAA does not expressly forbid athletes from accepting free legal representation in criminal cases. NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson said that in its interpretation of the rules, the association had determined “that outside agencies can provide pro bono legal services to student-athletes” under two conditions: that those agencies had represented other needy individuals in the past “not based on athletics criteria,” and if the athlete initiated contact with the lawyer.
Whether Cornwell, if he’s doing it for Winston, provides pro bono legal counsel to non-student-athletes or if he was first contacted by the player are a couple more of the great unknowns.