The Butte Cobras have threatened legal action against former head coach Jon Jonasson, accusing him of tampering with players under contract with the Western States Hockey League club.
In a letter e-mailed from the Helena-based law firm Luxan & Murfitt PLLP to the former coach, it was demanded that Jonasson “agree in writing that you will have no further contact with any player under contract to play for the Butte Cobras.”
Jonasson has five days, from the time he receives the letter, to respond.
Jonasson was hired as the Cobras’ head coach in March and had been actively recruiting and signing players. He submitted his resignation to team owner Michael Burks on June 8 and was hired as head coach of the Helena Bighorns. Jonasson made the move because he felt Helena would be a better fit for his family.
“When he resigned, he said ‘I’m going to do whatever I can to help your team,’” Burks said. “But he has completely gone after (the players). He’s trying to get them to go to Helena. He’s trying to destroy what we’ve started.”
Burks was alerted to the allegations when he got a call from another coach in the WSHL. One Cobra player, thinking his contract had been voided, started calling other teams in hopes of landing a spot on their roster. Burks refused to disclose the name of the player.
“Jon is contacting the players that he signed while he was employed with us,” Burks said. “He is telling them that the contract he signed (with them) is null and void, and that they have complete authority to go anywhere they want.
“These players cannot play with any other team in the WSHL because that contract is completely binding.”
Jonasson denied any wrongdoing and said that the only recent contact he’s had with current Cobra players was in telling them that he is no longer going to be their coach.
“I’m not sure where that came from,” Jonasson said. “That’s never been said. I keep my word and I told Michael that I would do whatever I could to help the Cobras.
“I want to make sure that everything goes well for them. I called each guy and made sure they knew the situation. At the same time (new coach) Jason Dobes is a good coach and I think they are in pretty good hands.”
Jonasson also said that the e-mail account that had been set up through his new team has been undergoing some technical glitches and that he has not received an e-mail from the lawyers.
Burks made it clear that the players who signed with the Cobras are still under contract to play in Butte this season. He also said that players are forbidden from jumping from one WSHL team to another. The Bighorns are not a part of the WSHL but Burks said that Cobras players “cannot go to Helena because Jon recruited those players while he was employed by me.”
In the letter sent to Jonasson, attorney Kelton D. Olney stated that he reviewed the player contracts and “there is no provision in these contracts which allows the player to void the contract should the coach (you) leave the team. Consequently, your decision to misinform the player(s) not only subjects you to liability but may also subject the player(s) you misinform to legal action.”
Dobes, who was hired as Jonasson’s replacement, has spoken with most of the players who are under contract with the Cobras and said that they are still excited to play in Butte. He was still waiting to hear back from the player involved, and was hoping to get in touch with him by Monday night.
“It’s unfortunate that this kid is being told this,” Dobes said. “The kids that I have spoken with are excited. They’re asking me about the reporting date. They’re referring other players to me. That indicates that things are going pretty smooth right now. I haven’t seen any red flags.”
Burks admitted to being caught off guard by Jonasson’s alleged actions, mainly because they ended their working relationship on good terms. He added that taking legal action was his only option.
“I am one who takes somebody for their word,” Burks said. “Once their word is broken, I don’t have time to make phone calls. I know that with my attorney taking over, it will be handled quickly and professionally. My telling him to stop would have no guarantee.
“This is just business for us to tell Jon that to find more players, look in another direction. I’ve already invested a lot of money in the recruiting process. He can start over in Helena and I wish him the best of luck.”