Miller's family retains attorney Barry Cohen
The family of Joel Miller, the walk-on running back at the center of the locker-room incident that led to the firing of USF football coach Jim Leavitt, has retained the services of Barry Cohen, a high-profile Tampa attorney who has handled several multi-million-dollar civil lawsuits and settlements.
Miller's father, Paul, said Sunday that the family was now represented by Cohen, and the attorney said he does not yet know whether any civil action would be directed at the university, at Leavitt or anyone at all.
"I'm in the process of evaluating the facts," Cohen said. "I'm going to go where the evidence takes me. I'm doing my own investigation, but I know this boy has been truly victimized, when none of this was his fault."
A university investigation found this week that Leavitt grabbed Miller by the throat and slapped him twice in the face during halftime of USF's game against Louisville on Nov. 21. Leavitt and Miller both denied the allegations, both publicly and in meeting with investigators, but other eyewitness accounts of the incident led the university to rule that Leavitt did what was accused, then lied about it and interfered with the investigation, all considered "serious violations" of the school's conduct policies.
Cohen said Miller was a "courageous kid, a principled kid," and said much of the attention brought on Miller after the allegation was made public could have been avoided if Leavitt had told the truth.
"(Miller) didn't try to hurt the coach. He went the other way, and tried to protect him," Cohen said. "He didn't go crying, he stood up for his coach. He feels very badly about this, but he was innocently involved. The coach should have stepped up to the plate and said the right thing. It put the kid in a very unfair position, where a lot of people have unfairly blamed the kid for this."
Leavitt did not return a call seeking comment, and university spokesman Michael Hoad, agreeing that Miller did nothing wrong, said it was good that the family had sought Cohen's guidance on the matter.
This isn't the first time Cohen has been retained by the family of a USF football player. In 2007, he was retained by the family of the late Keeley Dorsey, a freshman running back who collapsed and died during a team conditioning workout in January 2007. An investigation into his death by the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office ruled that it was by natural causes, and no legal action was taken by Cohen against USF.