James Ramsey’s attorney seeks dismissal of UofL lawsuit in oral arguments

UofL’s attorney Stephen Wadsworth (left) and James Ramsey’s attorney Steve Pence (middle) spoke during oral arguments on a motion to dismiss the lawsuit against UofL’s former president. | Photo by Joe Sonka

The attorney for former University of Louisville President James Ramsey made his case for the dismissal of the university’s lawsuit against his client in oral arguments on Friday, asserting that UofL does not have the standing to sue Ramsey and the complaint did not make any specific accusations of wrongdoing against him.

In April — 21 months after Ramsey was forced to resign as president — UofL and the UofL Foundation filed a lawsuit against Ramsey, four former foundation officials and the foundation’s former law firm Stites & Harbison, asserting that they breached their fiduciary duties and committed fraud by depleting the university’s endowment and giving themselves excess compensation, all without receiving proper authorization from the foundation’s board.

In June, Ramsey’s attorney, Steve Pence, filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit against his client, arguing that the complaint did not make specific and provable claims against Ramsey and that some of the alleged acts of wrongdoing took place outside of the five-year statute of limitations.

Pence expanded on this motion in oral arguments before Judge Judith McDonald-Burkman in Jefferson Circuit Court Friday morning, contending that UofL might hypothetically be able to sue its foundation for wrongdoing, but it did not have the standing to sue individuals who worked for the foundation.

Instead of suing those board members of the foundation, Pence mocked UofL’s attorneys for arguing that the entire board was “blinded by” Ramsey, who “cast a spell” over them. He added that UofL’s complaint was defective because it did not make any specifics claims of wrongdoing by Ramsey himself, instead casting all of the defendants together as “they.”

“(UofL’s attorney) says ‘they’ tried to conceal, ‘they’ did this,” said Pence. “Your honor, I don’t represent ‘they.’ I represent Dr. Jim Ramsey. I’m entitled to know what it is that Dr. Jim Ramsey specifically did, the date that he did it, the date he concealed.”

Pence also questioned the validity of the $2 million forensic investigation performed by Alvarez & Marsal at the request of the UofL board’s new leadership, saying that it only told the board what it wanted to hear.

Stephen Wadsworth, hired as one of the attorneys for UofL in the lawsuit, said it was clear that Ramsey and his defendants actively concealed facts from the board and perpetrated fraud, calling these “reckless actions” that caused the university’s endowment to “evaporate.”

Claiming that the fraudulent nature of concealing facts from the board pushes away concerns over the statute of limitations, Wadsworth added that Ramsey “adversely dominated the board for many, many years,” “through the other defendants and personally.”

“He was a big charismatic figure in this community,” said Wadsworth. “He was spending a lot of money, and that has a way of making you popular.”

After the hearing, Pence told reporters that the A&M report “doesn’t say that James Ramsey did anything in particular,” and dismissed the notion that Ramsey was in charge of or ran the foundation as its president, as it had a board of directors.

“Are you saying that this entire board is asleep at the wheel?” asked Pence. “That he’s got some hypnotic effect on them? … Were they somehow mesmerized?”

The next hearing in the case is on Dec. 18, where attorneys for Stites & Harbison will give their oral arguments to dismiss the case against their clients.