MU attorneys ask judge to halt O’Neal family subpoena

Monday, February 11, 2008 | 7:37 p.m. CST; updated 1:35 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Aaron O’Neal

COLUMBIA — MU attorneys asked a Boone County Circuit judge Monday to prevent a potential “war of paper” between the university and attorneys laying the groundwork for a change of venue in the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of Aaron O’Neal.

O’Neal, 19, was a redshirt freshman when he collapsed during a voluntary MU football practice in the summer of 2005. His parents, Lonnie and Deborah O’Neal, sued 14 employees of the MU athletics department, including MU athletics director Mike Alden and MU football coach Gary Pinkel.


— July 12, 2005: MU football player Aaron O’Neal, 19, dies after a voluntary practice. — Aug. 23, 2005: Attorneys for O’Neal’s father file a wrongful death suit against 14 MU athletics’ employees. Valerie Rao, Boone County medical examiner, names viral meningitis as the cause of O’Neal’s death. — July 2006: The O’Neals’ attorneys amend the lawsuit, alleging that MU failed to identify O’Neal as a carrier of sickle cell trait. — March 12, 2007: Hamp Ford, a private Columbia attorney, asks that certain statements be removed from the lawsuit. — March 28, 2007: Judge Gary Oxenhandler rules that certain statements be stricken from the lawsuit and that the O’Neals’ attorneys specify which guidelines were violated. — Monday: Judge Gary Oxenhandler hears a motion to quash a subpoena by attorneys for Lonnie and Deborah O’Neal.

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The suit seeks damages of up to $350,000 for negligence in O’Neal’s death.

Attorneys for the O’Neals subpoenaed 16 different types of information from MU, including the number of MU students in Boone County, and a list of the Tiger Quarterback Club of Columbia contributors, from the past five years. Monday’s hearing was requested by attorneys for the university, seeking to quash the subpoena.

MU attorney Paul Maguffee said the subpoena was served to the university on Jan. 8 and the defense’s motion was filed on Jan. 18.

Chris Bauman, an attorney for O’Neal’s parents, said the information they’re seeking could help determine if residents of Boone County are prejudiced against O’Neal because of their ties to the university.

Bauman, who is from St. Louis, argued that MU has a wide base of supporters in Boone County.

“I got here last night and I turned on the TV. ... Gary Pinkel was on the screen asking for contributions,” Bauman told Judge Gary Oxenhandler.

But Maguffee argued that the scope of the subpoena is too broad, calling it “unreasonable and burdensome.” He also said that it would draw MU — which is not named in the suit — into a “war of paper.”

“Whether the university does have ties to residents in Boone County doesn’t mean (Boone County) inhabitants are prejudiced against Aaron O’Neal,” Maguffee said.

Oxenhandler did not rule on the motion. However, he suggested that the scope of the subpoena might be unreasonably broad.

“The number of students enrolled in the university that reside in Boone County? ... The amount and types of financial aid (for those students)?” Oxenhandler rhetorically asked Bauman. “It seems to me that’s not discoverable.”

Hamp Ford, a Columbia attorney, asked for at least a week to review the motion.

A status hearing, or case management conference, for the wrongful death lawsuit is set for March 24.

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