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Ex-'Dogs athletic director vents anger at allegations of sexual misconduct

Fresno Bee, 10/23/07

Former Fresno State athletic director Scott Johnson on Monday blasted efforts by Stacy Johnson-Klein’s lawyer to portray him as a Don Juan who used his authority over women to satisfy his lust.

Warren Paboojian, the attorney for the former women’s basketball coach, asked Johnson in Fresno County Superior Court about a series of allegations:

Did Johnson have sexual intercourse with a female university employee in a Salt Lake City hotel room in 2000 while another university employee was in a bed next to them?

Did a boozed-up Johnson and others in that Utah hotel room watch pornographic movies?

Did Johnson proposition Johnson-Klein in a car wash?

Never, Johnson answered to each question during his nearly five hours of testimony in Johnson-Klein’s sexual discrimination lawsuit against the university.

And in mid-morning, Johnson used a question about the reasons for his retirement in early 2005 as an opportunity to vent his anger at how Paboojian has portrayed him.

The allegations have deeply hurt him personally and professionally, Johnson told Paboojian.

“It is all absolutely false,” Johnson said. “I have a wife and a family, and you’ve embarrassed them. I didn’t do those things. I have great respect for women.”

Johnson said this character assassination must stop. “I’m tired of it,” he said.

Johnson’s fury was a key moment in Monday’s testimony. Johnson-Klein alleges she was fired in March 2005 in part because she complained about unequal treatment of female athletes. The school said she was fired because her erratic behavior endangered her players’ welfare and because she violated school policy.

Paboojian has painted a picture of a sexist culture in the athletic department, and Johnson, athletic director from early 2002 until February 2005, as its personification.

Johnson on Monday fought every attempt by Paboojian to add to this picture. He used simple but firm declarations — usually “no” or “never” — to refute allegations of sexual misconduct or sexist behavior.

Johnson said he respected former associate athletic director Diane Milutinovich, but the two had “agreed to disagree” on some contentious gender equity policy issues. He said tight budgets forced him in early 2002 to reorganize his department in a way that led to Milutinovich being reassigned to the University Student Union.

Johnson and Paboojian sparred repeatedly about the contrast in the university’s athlete drug policies in the first two years — 2002-03 and 2003-04 — of the coaching tenures of Johnson-Klein and then-men’s basketball coach Ray Lopes.

Paboojian tried to show the policy was weakened in 2003-04 because some of Lopes’ players were repeatedly failing drug tests, yet continued to play because the university needed them to fill the new Save Mart Center. This attitude threatened the players’ health and welfare, Paboojian contended.

The university has said it fired Johnson-Klein in part because her erratic behavior, including taking a half-bottle of prescription painkillers from a player, threatened the health and welfare of her players.

Johnson would have none of it, saying the 2003-04 drug policy was actually more stringent. He said the university never put filling an arena ahead of its athletes’ well-being.

The main difference in Johnson’s testimony during cross-examination was that Fresno State lawyer Mick Marderosian’s questions were worded more delicately. But the results were largely the same.

Johnson said he paid Johnson-Klein well; he tried to meet all her requests if the tight budget permitted; he was pleased she had created huge fan interest in women’s basketball; he had a cordial and effective working relationship with Johnson-Klein for more than two years, with no apparent complaints from either party.

Johnson’s fury over Paboojian’s sex questions wasn’t the day’s only moment of drama. Another involved about 10 seconds of silence.

One of the trial’s key questions is what — if anything — Fresno State knew about Johnson-Klein’s erratic behavior in late 2004 and January 2005. Central to this question are two e-mails.

On Nov. 5, 2004, Jeannine Raymond, then the university’s human resources director, sent an e-mail to Johnson, President John Welty and associate athletic director Randy Welniak. Welniak was Johnson-Klein’s supervisor.

Raymond warned them that Johnson-Klein had threatened to file Title IX and whistle-blower complaints because her complaints about unequal treatment weren’t being addressed.

The second e-mail, on Jan. 30, 2005, was from Johnson-Klein to Johnson. She said she wanted a female supervisor because she no longer trusted Welniak.

Paboojian contends the university decided the once-cooperative Johnson-Klein had to be fired because she no longer was a “team” player and had joined Milutinovich and others as a Title IX zealot.

Paboojian’s sequence of events goes like this: Johnson-Klein is suspended Feb. 9, 2005; Raymond heads an investigation into Johnson-Klein’s behavior; the investigation’s report relies to a large degree on information compiled by Welniak, who is angry Johnson-Klein criticized him to his bosses; Johnson-Klein is excluded from defending herself during the investigation; the players and staff turn on Johnson-Klein, and she is fired March 2.

Johnson, now the city of Fresno’s economic development director, and the university describe a different scenario: Welniak is an experienced administrator who closely and fairly supervises Johnson-Klein; the Raymond-led investigation after the suspension reveals, in Johnson’s words, that players and coaching staff are “in rebellion” against Johnson-Klein’s harsh treatment; Johnson-Klein’s firing is necessary for the athletes’ safety.

Johnson retired between Johnson-Klein’s suspension and firing. He said he had no role in the latter decision.

It is against this backdrop that Paboojian asked Johnson whether he learned there might be something seriously amiss with Johnson-Klein’s behavior only after receiving the Jan. 30 e-mail from her.

Except for the sound of Paboojian’s pacing, the courtroom was silent for about 10 seconds. “No, I think it was before,” Johnson said.