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Barry Cohen, lawyer for USF walk-on Joel Miller, to speak today

TAMPA — As USF moved closer to naming a new football coach, attorneys for walk-on Joel Miller and fired coach Jim Leavitt made their own moves Wednesday.

Tampa attorney Barry Cohen, who is representing Miller's family, called a news conference for this morning. Cohen, who has made a name for himself with high-dollar civil lawsuits, did not give a reason for the news conference.

Cohen confirmed he spoke with USF players as part of his review of the allegations against Leavitt. A university investigation said Leavitt grabbed Miller by the throat and slapped him twice in the face during halftime of USF's Nov. 21 game against Louisville.

Leavitt denies the allegations, and Miller initially did as well, both to media outlets and in interviews with USF investigators. Cohen said Sunday that Miller, 21, was "truly victimized" by the incident and its aftermath and much of the trauma his client has suffered could have been avoided had Leavitt told the truth when the allegations were first made.

Leavitt's attorneys met with USF provost Ralph Wilcox on Wednesday for a "post-termination meeting," stipulated in his contract as part of his firing on Friday. They spoke for about 20 minutes, and Wilcox will report to USF president Judy Genshaft, who has one week to review the decision.

USF is not expected to change its ruling that Leavitt committed "serious violations" of its conduct policies, resulting in him being "fired with cause."

Leavitt, 53, isn't publicly seeking a settlement, but he wants his job back. His attorneys produced a new witness, the father of another USF walk-on and a volunteer assistant on the team who said he saw the incident but was not interviewed by the school.

"He was like 5 feet from me," said Mike Durakovic, whose account of the incident supports Leavitt's.

Durakovic, a former assistant at Sickles High who works as a builder and said he is not compensated by USF, said he saw Leavitt as he interacted with Miller and heard some of the coach's words.

"I heard him say, 'Hey! Come on! You're better than that! Don't worry about it!' " Durakovic said, recalling what he saw in the front left corner of the home locker room at Raymond James Stadium. "He had his hand on his shoulder pad. I saw him lift (Miller's) chin up with his hand. (Had there been a slap), I would have seen it.

"I did not see (Leavitt slapping Miller)."

Asked why he did not come forward during the investigation, which took more than three weeks and included interviews of 29 other people who were in the locker room, Durakovic said he "never believed" Leavitt would be deemed guilty of the allegations and was busy with his job and not around the team.

While supportive of Leavitt's account, Durakovic also contradicts Leavitt, who told investigators there was "no way" he could have touched Miller's face.

Barry Cohen, lawyer for USF walk-on Joel Miller, to speak today 01/13/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 11:23pm]
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