Wright tells of derogatory school party

Attorneys become combative at Vivas trial

June 25, 2007 

Lindy Vivas' trial turned contentious Thursday as lawyers from both sides became combative, particularly over the potential testimony from key witness Margie Wright.

The atmosphere grew tense for the first time since the trial began Friday. Vivas is suing Fresno State for $4.1 million, saying her contract as the volleyball coach was not renewed in 2004 because of her outspoken advocacy of gender equity and for her perceived sexual orientation.

Vivas contends she is a victim of retaliation and an atmosphere hostile to women's athletics.

Wright, the Fresno State softball coach since 1986, testified seeing a "party going on" inside a university office in April 2000 and a large poster that read "Ugly women's athletes day" with stick figures of female athletes that had photos of school administrators' heads pasted on top.

Inside the office, Wright said she saw three male athletic department officials -- Jon Fagg, Steve Weakland and Scott Johnson -- "eating a potluck" in celebration of the day.

Later Thursday, former head trainer Miguel Rueda testified seeing four administrators -- Johnson, Weakland, Randy Welniak and Desiree Reed-Francois -- exchange high-fives and smiles on a football trip in Kansas after hearing the Fresno State volleyball team had lost.

But it was what Wright was about to say in front of the jury that seemed to alarm Fresno State attorney Dawn Theodora most: That the Fresno State baseball players, then coached by Title IX opponent Bob Bennett, called the Bulldogs softball team "dykes on spikes."

Speaking outside the courtroom, Wright confirmed she wanted to tell the jury what the baseball players had called her players.

But Theodora, who made numerous objections and requested multiple sidebars during Wright's testimony, persuaded Judge Alan M. Simpson to limit the softball coach's testimony to incidents only involving Vivas or the volleyball program.

"Anything that Margie Wright has experienced, if it wasn't experienced by Lindy Vivas, it's not relevant to this case," Theodora said outside the courtroom.

Dan Siegel, Vivas' attorney, had argued Wright was on the stand to describe the hostile environment within the athletic department that both Wright and Vivas dealt with.

Wright said she felt she made her point, even without the comments by the baseball players.

"There were so many things that went on that was just unbelievable, and really affected whether the women were treated equally," Wright said outside the courtroom. "I told the truth, and if the jury recognizes that was the truth, I do think it's very clear that we had problems."

The exchanges between the lawyers throughout the day resulted in two meetings in chambers with Simpson and another lengthy discussion before a packed courtroom -- but without the jury present -- of what testimony Wright was allowed to provide.

Simpson warned both lawyers to stop bickering and interrupting each other and to sit down when the other attorney spoke. Simpson even threatened to bar video cameras and audio devices to stop "the show."

During one of the meetings behind closed doors, Theodora requested the media be removed from the courtroom, Siegel said. Her request was denied.

"It's all about posturing, putting on a show, and that's not my style," Theodora said outside the courtroom. She added that she feels the media presence is impacting the trial. "That's not how I try cases. It makes it difficult."

Wright's testimony recounted the 1995 radio show by Ray Appleton that discussed Title IX and how the broadcast impacted the atmosphere in the athletic department. Vivas has maintained that Appleton insinuated female coaches at Fresno State were gay. Appleton has denied that.

"There were lies and some of the most disgusting things I ever heard," Wright said. "It became really difficult to come to work [after the show aired]. You couldn't talk to anyone about it.

"You felt ostracized. You felt strange, particularly when we found out the reason the radio show happened was our own peers were the people who went to Ray Appleton to have him do this particular show."

The trial will resume Monday, with Vivas' cross examination expected to conclude and former Fresno State volleyball player Melanie Estes tentatively scheduled to take the stand.

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