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More than $208 million of what used to be the NCAA's money is sitting in a bank account, waiting to be distributed to at least 50,000 current and former college athletes as well as the lawyers who represented them in a case that was settled well over a year ago.

Standing in the way are one former college football player and his attorney.

They have taken their objection to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, repeating an action that they and another objector pursued three years ago in the wake of a $60 million settlement related to the use of college athletes' names and likenesses in video games.

In both instances, the objections centered at least in part on the attorney's fees and costs awarded to the plaintiffs' lawyers.

The former player, Western Michigan wide receiver Darrin Duncan, ultimately withdrew the appeal to the video games settlement, but not until after court filings revealed that his attorney, Caroline Tucker, attempted to obtain $200,000 from the plaintiffs' lawyers in exchange for dropping the objection.

Eventually, checks averaging about $1,750 went out to nearly 25,000 athletes who played college football or basketball.

This time, athletes who played football, men's basketball or women's basketball are eligible for payments. The money comes from the settlement of the damages portion of a lawsuit against the NCAA and 11 major conferences that challenges the association's current compensation limits.

With so many athletes waiting to get paid amounts that could average about $6,000 for those who played for four years, frustration is building.

The case's legal record includes letters, and hand-addressed envelopes, that two apparent former athletes sent in the past four weeks to U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken. Wilken approved the settlement and a nearly $45 million award of attorney's fees and expenses that would come from the settlement fund.

In January, the plaintiffs' lawyers asked her to require Duncan and/or Tucker to post a nearly $80,000 bond that would allow the plaintiffs to recover a variety of costs related to the appeal. The imposition of such a bond often prompts objectors to withdraw an appeal rather than put up money they could lose.

One of the letters says it is from Jacqueline Jeffcoat of Denver. That is the name and current residence of a woman who played two seasons of basketball at Oklahoma, then two seasons at Texas State, according to information on Texas State's athletics website. Her father, Jim Jeffcoat, played for the NFL's Dallas Cowboys and worked as a college football assistant coach; her brother, Jackson, played football at Texas.

"We would greatly appreciate ... a decision made to issue the appeal bond," she wrote. "Please consider the thousands of current and former student-athletes waiting on this check."

On Friday, Wilken ruled that Duncan and/or Tucker must post a $5,000 bond or withdraw the appeal.

All of this is occurring against the backdrop of Duncan dealing with personal hardship.

Now 28, he has been diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, according to his mother and a GoFundMe page established on his behalf about a year ago. He has received death threats because of his objection to the settlement, his mother, Arleen Pollard, said in an interview with USA TODAY.

Meanwhile, the lawyers overseeing the settlement — the same ones who oversaw the video games agreement — are vigorously pursuing a variety of additional strategies aimed at getting Tucker to drop the objection.

Late last week, in addition to submitting their standard response to Tucker's opening brief nearly two weeks ahead of their deadline to do so, a rarity for lawyers, they made two additional filings. In one, they asked the 9th Circuit to immediately dismiss the objection.

In the other, they asked for sanctions to be imposed on Tucker and Duncan, essentially a request that Tucker and Duncan reimburse them for nearly $13,000 in legal work done after Tucker filed her opening brief with the appellate court.

The motion for sanctions notes that since 2016, there are seven other cases in which she has represented, or is representing, objectors in appeals to the 9th Circuit. Three of those cases are pending, she lost in one and she voluntarily dismissed the others. In addition, the motion says, Tucker has been an objector in four other class-action settlement appeals spread across four different circuits, voluntarily dismissing each.

Tucker has not responded to numerous requests for comment.

Steve Berman, whose firm is overseeing the settlement, said, "We think (Tucker's) actions are frivolous. ... We're doing everything we can under the law to get this resolved in our favor."

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June 18, 2018
 
 
 

 

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