Dagny Knutson will be back in court this week in the next step of a now-four-year legal battle with her former attorney, Richard Foster. Knutson won the lawsuit back in 2016, only for a judge to order a new trial. Now, Knutson is appealing, asking the court to restore the original ruling.
The background of Knutson’s case is a winding and complicated narrative through what has become a mess of intersecting USA Swimming scandals.
Knutson was one of USA Swimming’s top young talents. At 16, she broke the American record in the 400 yard IM. At 17, she won a silver medal at the 2011 World Championships as part of the U.S. 4×200 free relay, and in 2013, she won gold as part of that team.
Based out of Minot, North Dakota in high school, Knutson originally committed to Auburn. But when coach Paul Yetter left the program, Knutson rescinded her commitment and turned pro.
Per The OC Register, Knutson and fellow pro swimmer Kate Ziegler were told by then-USA Swimming National Team Director Mark Schubert that if they moved to California to join the elite training group USA Swimming was building (it was connected to an established club in the area called “FAST” or “Fullerton Area Swim Team”), that the national governing body would cover their tuition to a local school, room and board and training expenses.
But Schubert was let go by USA Swimming, and in the changeover at his position, USA Swimming told Knutson and Zeigler that only some of those expenses would be covered.
That’s where Foster entered the picture. The attorney reached out to USA Swimming President Chuck Wielgus in November of 2010, representing Knutson and Ziegler and seeking resolution to their situation.
But Foster had a history with swimming’s governing body. He was the former president of USA Water Polo. He had previously represented Schubert legally. Wielgus, according to The OC Register, was a longtime friend, and Foster had many personal connections with USA Swimming management. Foster had also represented USA Swimming as an organization in front of FINA, the world governing body for aquatics.
Foster managed to procure a new deal for the two swimmers, but Knutson now alleges that the deal was much worse than the original terms they were promised. The new model was tied heavily to the swimmers’ world rankings – and as Knutson struggled with depression and an eating disorder over the next few years, the returns diminished and the deal was eventually terminated.
In June of 2016, a jury ruled that Foster had committed a breach of fiduciary duty, awarding Knutson $617,800 in damages. But months later, a judge threw out that verdict and sentence, saying Knutson’s attorney failed to prove that someone other than Foster could have procured her a better deal. That would have sent the case back to court with a new jury and an extra burden of proof on Knutson’s side.
Knutson and her attorney, Bob Allard, appealed, asking a court to restore the original ruling. That’s the trial that begins next week, according to The O.C. Register.
More FAST Controversy
Knutson’s lawsuit is not the only controversy to come out of the FAST training hub. Fellow swimmer Ariana Kukors alleged earlier this year that her longtime coach Sean Hutchison had groomed and sexually abused her as a teenager. Kukors and Hutchison went to the FAST Center of Excellence together at roughly the same time as Knutson.
Kukors is also represented by Allard, who has represented a number of victims of sexual abuse in swimming.