School district: Court overstepped bounds on Isler restraining order

CNJ staff photo: Kevin Wilson Clovis basketball coach J.D. Isler talks to his team during the semifinals of the Southwest Dairy Farmers Classic last week against El Paso Bowie.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm says she has lost all trust and confidence in J.D. Isler’s ability to coach varsity basketball.

Isler, through his attorney, says he’s been hung out to dry by the school.

In motions filed late New year’s eve in district court, attorneys for Clovis Municipal Schools argue the court exceeded its authority by issuing a temporary restraining order allowing Isler to continue coaching.

Isler, who is accused of recruiting players, was suspended by the New Mexico Activities Association in mid-December. The school notified Isler he would be fired in January.

In their motion, lawyers for the school are asking the court to dissolve the temporary restraining order. The are also demanding the order be extended no longer than 20 days.

No hearing is scheduled.

District Judge Teddy Hartley issued the temporary restraining order Dec. 18 against Clovis schools and the NMAA. The order reinstated Isler as coach of the Wildcat varsity boys team and stopped Isler’s termination and suspension.

Hartley said the temporary order would remain in force until a second hearing could be held to determine if the schools and NMAA were within their rights to suspend and terminate Isler.

Isler was terminated by the schools after the NMAA barred him from coaching for the remainder of the year. The NMAA cited an improper meeting with a prospective student as a violation of its rule against undue influence.

Seidenwurm concluded Isler’s, “Conduct combined with other conduct was inconsistent with the ethical expectations for a coach for the School District charged with teaching its student-athletes,” the motion stated.

School lawyers cite case law directing courts not to intervene in employer-employee relationships. They are arguing in doing so, the court circumvented recourse already allowed by employment laws.

Lawyers argue the court gave “extraordinary relief” by issuing the order and reinstating Isler.

The school’s motion says the district placed Isler on paid administrative leave then terminated him in keeping with rules governing an at-will employee. Should Isler wish to challenge, the motion said, he is entitled to seek damages through a civil case.

Asking the court to expedite a decision and dissolve the order, the schools are arguing the court-ordered reinstatement of (Isler) to his coaching position, “Is causing irreparable damage to the basketball program and to its student-athletes in having a coach who has already been suspended and terminated by the Superintendent for unethical conduct.

“And,” the motion says, “who has lost the trust and confidence of the School District.”

Isler said in an earlier court petition the NMAA sanctioned him because it said he broke the rules by meeting with high school junior Lathan Lieb in the summer to discuss his possible move from Dora to Clovis.

In the two meetings he had with Lieb and the player’s father, Isler said he was clear that in no way was he making any promises or guarantees Lieb would be accepted on the team or the extent he might play if he moved to Clovis.

Lieb said he was not recruited by Isler.

The NMAA has not said Lieb’s case is the cause of the investigation. It has also declined comment on any evidence it has gathered in support of its findings.

Warren Frost, attorney for Isler, said by phone Monday the motion is just a rehashing of what was argued at the hearing, and it, “doesn’t add anything.”

Frost said it is his position Isler did nothing wrong and the schools and NMAA had no foundation for the action they took.

“As far as we know, they don’t claim that he did anything to entice this kid to come (to Clovis High School),” he said.

“They’re just griping about the meeting. The problem is they don’t have any rules that say a coach can’t meet with students,” Frost said.

Frost said it looks like the soonest the judge will be available to hold a hearing would be sometime in March.

The schools, the only ones allowed to appeal the NMAA’s decision to suspend Isler, effectively hung him out to dry, Frost said, by refusing to support him and taking its own action against him.

“I’m very disappointed that the school district is not backing Coach Isler,” he said, explaining everything Isler did was, “under the guidance of the athletic director with the athletic director’s full knowledge.

“It seems outrageous to me that the school district is basically throwing Coach Isler to the dogs,” Frost said.