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Wheeler Lawyers Rehired

Mother of the late football player again turns to Cochran and Montgomery.

March 26, 2004|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

Linda Will, the mother of the late Northwestern University football player Rashidi Wheeler, has reunited for a second time with Chicago-based attorneys Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. and James Montgomery, less than two weeks after she fired the high-profile legal team from her wrongful-death lawsuit against the university.

A secretary in Montgomery's office said Thursday that the attorney had only a two-sentence reaction to the development: "Yes, she has returned. No further comment."

Will has stunned and troubled her attorneys and others involved in the case with a variety of actions since her son died after collapsing on a Northwestern football practice field during a rigorous set of running drills on Aug. 3, 2001.

Will was removed from depositions after calling Northwestern football Coach Randy Walker "a murderer." She fought the inclusion of Wheeler's biological father, George Wheeler Jr., as a co-executor, labeling him "a deadbeat dad."

And she has fired Cochran and Montgomery twice, the latest dismissal coming earlier this month as a result of disagreements about how best to react to the case being moved from Chicago to Trenton, N.J., as part of bankruptcy proceedings involving third-party defendant Nutraquest Inc.

Northwestern alleges that New Jersey-based Nutraquest and another company that made a product containing ephedra should be subject to financial responsibility if a jury rules in favor of Wheeler's family. The Cook County (Ill.) medical examiner who performed Wheeler's autopsy ruled the 22-year-old senior strong safety died of exercise-induced bronchial asthma, and Wheeler's family contends Northwestern failed to properly recognize and treat his symptoms.

Tom Demetrio, the Chicago-based attorney who represents George Wheeler Jr., said his client and Will should strike a low-dollar settlement with Nutraquest. Demetrio said that would effectively remove the company from the case and return it to Chicago. Demetrio criticized Will for ignoring "very sound, competent" legal advice.

Will could not be reached for comment Thursday.

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