The California State Supreme Court has rejected attorney Richard Foster‘s appeal of a fraud judgement in his representation of former swimmer Dagny Knutson.
Knutson won an initial civil lawsuit in 2016 when the Orange County (California) Superior Court found that he committed a breach of fiduciary duty and fraud by “willfully concealing” his conflict of interest while advising Knutson in her negotiations with USA Swimming. Foster was a former USOC board member, a two-time president of USA Water Polo, the president of USA Aquatic Sports, the chairman of the 2004 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, and a former legal representative of USA Swimming, among other long personal and professional relationships with USA Swimming.
Knutson was awarded $617,800 in damages in the case, but in 2017 a judge threw out that award and ordered a new trial. Upon appeal to a California appeals court in August of 2018, however, the verdict and award were reinstated. Foster was then charged with 7 ethics violations by the California State Bar Court: a proceeding which is still ongoing.
The decision by the Supreme Court is the final appeal in Knutson’s civil suit against Foster. Foster has taught a “Sports Law and Ethics” class in the Cal State Long Beach sports management program. A settlement hearing for that case is set for December 17th.
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 But when coach Paul Yetter left the program, Knutson rescinded her commitment and turned pro.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.