The civil lawsuit between former American record-holder Dagny Knutson and her former attorney Richard Foster begins today in California.
Knutson originally filed the suit in the fall of 2014. Now, The Orange County Register reports that the trial will begin this week in the Orange County Superior Court.
In the suit, Knutson alleges that Foster didn’t disclose a conflict of interest when he represented her in a dispute with USA Swimming in 2010. She is suing the attorney for fraud and breach of fiduciary duty.
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 But when coach Paul Yetter left the program, Knutson rescinded her commitment and turned pro.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 eventually 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.
The OC Register reported this week on the start of the trial, including some emails between Foster and Wielgus.
The case is a bit of a tangled spiderweb in terms of relationships between attorneys and clients.
Knutson is now represented by Bob Allard, whose history with USA Swimming is on the opposite spectrum from Foster. Rather than representing the swimming body, Allard has opposed USA Swimming in several high-profile abuse cases, including the case of banned coach Rick Curl.
Allard also directly opposed Foster in another case, in which Allard’s client, a former coach at Golden West Swim Club, alleged that she was wrongfully terminated by Schubert for complaining about what she saw as inappropriate behavior by a Golden West coach toward young female swimmers. Schubert was represented by Foster in that case, which settled out of court in 2014.
The coach accused of the inappropriate behavior was banned for three years in 2013.