UGA lawsuits over fatal crash likely delayed for months

Athens lawmaker Bill Cowsert has invoked a Georgia law that allows legislators to delay cases, a move that has drawn opposition from one of the attorneys representing Devin Willock’s family.
Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) talks about SB 140 on Crossover Day during the legislative session at the State Capitol on Monday, March 6, 2023. (Natrice Miller/

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) talks about SB 140 on Crossover Day during the legislative session at the State Capitol on Monday, March 6, 2023. (Natrice Miller/

A pair of lawsuits that arose following a fatal crash that stunned the University of Georgia football program appear to be on hiatus through early April, a delay the lawyer for Devin Willock’s father says benefits defendants Jalen Carter and the UGA Athletic Association.

Athens state senator Bill Cowsert, who is representing Carter, a former UGA defensive star, has told a judge he will step away from the cases through April 8. His filing cites a Georgia law that grants lawyer-legislators broad leave from their legal caseload during the legislative session, which typically runs through the first few months of the year. The law allows Cowsert to effectively halt hearings and discovery in the UGA cases, first filed last summer.

Carter is accused of negligently racing Georgia recruiting analyst Chandler LeCroy in the early morning hours of Jan. 15, 2023, just moments before the crash that killed LeCroy and Willock, a Georgia football player, who was a passenger. Carter was charged with racing and reckless driving in March and pleaded no contest. In previous filings, Cowsert has denied his client is liable.

The lawsuits are brought by Willock’s family and former UGA football recruiting analyst Tory Bowles, who was also a passenger in the black Ford Expedition rented by the athletic association and driven by LeCroy.

Cowsert’s request for leave has drawn the ire of Atlanta attorney Terry Jackson, who is representing Willock’s father, Dave Willock. In a brief filed last week, Jackson accused Cowsert of stalling the case to the benefit of Carter and the UGA athletic association.

Jackson’s filing paints a cozy relationship between Cowsert and UGA. He said the Athens senator is a member of a UGA football fan organization where he rubs shoulders with UGA notables such as university president Jere Morehead, head coach Kirby Smart and Bryant Gantt, the football program’s director of player personnel and informal police liaison.

Jackson also makes the allegation, without providing evidence, that UGA is paying Cowsert to represent Carter and “keep a tab” on their former star, who now plays for the Philadelphia Eagles. Such an arrangement, Jackson said, is a conflict of interest which warrants the senator’s removal from the case.

“Mr. Cowsert’s retainer should be exposed as a failed attempt by the UGAAA to deny justice, by delaying it indefinitely,” Jackson wrote.

Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter (88) reacts after their win against Ohio State during the Peach Bowl Playoff Semifinal at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Sat., Dec. 31, 2022, in Atlanta. Georgia won 42-41. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

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Credit: Jason Getz /

Cowsert told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Jackson’s allegations are “totally false.” In a written statement, the athletic association also denied Jackson’s claims, adding his “willingness to invent facts” should color the other allegations he’s made in his lawsuit.

“The recent allegations that the UGA Athletic Association ‘hand selected’ counsel for Mr. Carter and has any role whatsoever in funding his defense are complete fiction,” said Steven Drummond, an executive associate athletic director with the UGA athletic association.

The AJC has filed an open records request seeking records to determine if there are financial ties between UGA and Cowsert.

Georgia statute allows lawyer-legislators to stay “all aspects” of a case to allow them to step away from their practice during legislative business, which can also include committee meetings, legislative conferences and special sessions. Cowsert is a member of several committees and serves as the vice chair of the state’s judiciary committee, according to his legislative biography page.

The rule was somewhat curtailed in 2019, following an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation into late Georgia House Speaker David Ralston’s years of excessive use of the law. The series found he had used continuances to delay cases on behalf of clients accused of serious crimes.

Cartersville attorney Lester Tate, who reviewed Jackson’s most recent filings, said it isn’t unheard of for an organization to provide legal counsel to one of its members. If a UGA football player was sued for accidentally running over a fan on the sideline, for instance, it wouldn’t be unusual for the program to fund the player’s legal defense.

Still, Tate notes that Carter had already declared for the NFL draft days before the crash and was seemingly on his way out of the program. If Jackson’s allegations are true, it would be a “surprising development” he added.

But Tate, a past president of the State Bar of Georgia, is skeptical of Jackson’s argument that such an arrangement constitutes a conflict that that would warrant Cowsert’s removal from the case. None of the defendants in the case have raised similar objections.

“You have to look at who are making these claims,” Tate said. “It’s the plaintiffs, not the people who are likely to be affected by it.”

This is not Jackson’s first attempt at removing Cowsert from the case.

In November, Jackson filed a brief asking the court to remove both Cowsert and his law partner, Michael Broun, who at the time was representing another defendant in the case, arguing it was a conflict of interest for two lawyers from the same firm to represent separate defendants. A month later, Cowsert filed a brief denying Jackson’s claims. Still, Broun withdrew from the case.

Jackson’s filing in Gwinnett County State Court, where the lawsuits were filed, came days after attorneys for Bowles entered an amended complaint accusing UGA football staff of regularly drinking at recruiting events, including at Smart’s house, before driving recruits and their families in UGA rental vehicles. The complaint also alleged that Georgia football coaches spent cash on unofficial recruits. Such spending may have violated NCAA rules prohibiting programs from spending money on unofficial recruiting visits, her attorneys added.

The athletic association said it disputed the claims and would “vigorously” defend its interests in court.