The State Bar Court of California has suspended the law license of Richard Foster, an attorney who lost a years-long legal battle with former professional swimmer Dagny Knutson over his representation of her in 2010. That’s according to documents obtained by the Southern California News Group and published this week in The OC Register.
Foster had already been ordered to pay Knutson $617,800 in damages when the Orange County Superior Court found that he’d committed a breach of fiduciary duty and fraud. The legal battle was winding and complex, with a judge throwing out that verdict before an appeals court reinstated it and the state’s Supreme Court rejected Foster’s final appeal.
The conflict centered around Foster’s relationship with USA Swimming when he represented Knutson and fellow pro swimmer Kate Ziegler in 2010. Knutson was a college-age swimmer who skipped the NCAA arena to turn pro. USA Swimming offered to pay for tuition, room and board and training expenses for Knutson and Ziegler if they moved to the elite training group USA Swimming was trying to build in Southern California. But the USA Swimming official (Mark Schubert) who offered that deal was let go, and USA Swimming then informed the swimmers that it would only cover some of those expenses.
Foster represented Knutson and Ziegler in trying to procure a better deal. But Foster had a long relationship with USA Swimming and its president, Chuck Wielgus. Foster had even represented Schubert legally and had represented USA Swimming in front of FINA, the world’s governing body for swimming. Knutson says the deal he ultimately struck was much worse than the original deal. And the California courts system eventually ruled that Foster had willfully concealed his relationships with USA Swimming and Schubert from Knutson.
You can find more full context on the legal dispute here:
- Dagny Knutson wins civil suit against former attorney
- Dagny Knutson’s lawsuit drags on, appealing judge’s order
- Dagny Knutson back in court in fraud case against former attorney
- Dagny Knutson wins appeal in suit vs former attorney
- State Supreme Court rejects Richard Foster’s final appeal of Knutson civil suit
The new OC Register report says the State Bar Court found Foster “culpable” on five of seven charges of misconduct and “ruled that Foster misled and betrayed the trust and confidence of a client… to protect his business and personal relationships with USA Swimming, its executive director Chuck Wielgus, Richard Young, an attorney for the NGB, and other leading figures in the swimming community.”
Foster’s license was suspended for a year, though the Bar Court stayed all but 60 days of that ban. Foster will be on two years probation as well.
Foster told The OC Register that he expected a suspension because of the prior ruling in the civil lawsuit, but still maintains his innocence in his representation of Knutson:
“We expected some kind of suspension just because of the fact that there is a jury verdict against me,” he said in an e-mail, per the Register report. “The State Bar Judge’s decision reflects this. As you know, I believe that the jury verdict was flawed because I negotiated the best athlete contract in USA Swimming’s history and didn’t charge Dagny for it. The only reason she lost the contract is because she didn’t meet the performance markers because of her eating disorder, a fact she didn’t tell me about when I negotiated her contract. I do not believe that I did anything wrong.”
Knutson was represented in this case by Bob Allard, who has represented a number of clients in lawsuits against USA Swimming, many of them relating to athlete abuse. He provided a lengthy statement in the Register story:
“Sadly, as egregious as it has proven to be, this situation is not unique to the swimming community,” Allard says in the Register report. “By no means is this the first time that we have seen a powerful swimming executive manipulate a female athlete for personal gain. Seemingly countless women have been used as mere pawns to advance a broader agenda within USA Swimming to win medals and make money at all costs, even if the welfare of good and innocent people are sacrificed in the process.
“Whether it’s Ariana Kukors-Smith, Deena Deardurff-Schmidt, Kelley Currin, Dia Rianda, Jancy Thompson, Suzette Moran or Michael Saltzstein, it seems that USA Swimming, at least under the old regime, would not hesitate to throw its members under the bus in order to advance its own selfish interests. We can only hope that USA Swimming’s new leader Tim Hinchey is serious about making radical changes within this great sport because it is desperately in need of a drastic culture change.”