The NCAA revealed its relationship with Nevin Shapiro attorney Maria Elena Perez to lawyers involved in the Miami case in mid-January, multiple sources have told CBSSports.com.
The notification to attorneys representing Miami and coaches in the case was made approximately a week before the NCAA went public on Jan. 23 with what it called “improper conduct” in its dealings with Perez. The NCAA is conducting an external review of its enforcement department based on that finding.
On at least one occasion last month, NCAA enforcement official LuAnn Humphrey read from a prepared statement over the phone to a person involved in the case describing the relationship with Perez. Humphrey did not take questions on the situation.
“That's how they notified they had an issue,” said a source familiar with the NCAA's notification process. “They called a meeting with each involved party and basically said, ‘We want to let you know we've discovered this issue.' They read a statement and said, ‘If you have any questions, call Donald Remy.'”
Remy is the NCAA's general counsel. Sources said that the NCAA did not provide details of Elena Perez's involvement with the association. CBSSports.com reported last week that the NCAA's director of enforcement approved at least $20,000 for the use of Perez to ask questions relevant to the Miami case during a bankruptcy deposition conducted by the attorney.
The South Florida attorney is representing Shapiro, the central figure in the ongoing Miami investigation. At the same time in December 2011 that she was working for Shapiro, Elena Perez was being paid to ask questions for the NCAA during a deposition she was conducting in a bankruptcy case regarding Shapiro. In essence, at that moment she would have been doing work for both Shapiro and the NCAA, which was investigating her client's allegations.
Two years ago, Shapiro told Yahoo Sports he provided extra benefits to recruits and former Miami players when he was a high-rolling booster hanging around the program.
Humphrey also told people related to the case that the NCAA was going to claim it had an attorney-client privilege with Perez, according to two sources.
In that case, Perez could be prevented from speaking publicly about her relationship with the NCAA. In legal circles it is generally assumed that someone can have an attorney-client relationship without a signed document. There was no signed retention agreement between Perez and the NCAA. She was paid for some of her services and is currently seeking full remuneration.
CBSSports.com contacted David Swank on the subject of attorney-client privilege. Swank is a University of Oklahoma law professor and former NCAA infractions committee chairman.
“You can have an attorney-client privilege, without a contract. No problem there,” Swank said. “The attorney-client privilege is going to be invoked [orally] at that point in time. You get in some situations, somebody comes into my office, ‘I want you to represent me.' I say, ‘Tell me what the situation is.' He spills his guts. I say, ‘I can't represent you.' There would still be an attorney-client privilege there. I could not talk about it publicly or give that information to anybody else.”
After her involvement was revealed to attorneys working on the case, the enforcement staff was made aware of professional discipline inquiries regarding Perez at various times in the last few years. The U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida website lists a 2010 situation in which Perez came under the supervision of another attorney. In an appeal case, a judge wrote that Perez was “ineffective” and her conduct fell below the Florida Bar's “standard of conduct and professionalism.”
CBSSports.com previously reported the Florida Bar has a file open "on Maria Elena Perez to investigate possible violations ... related to the University of Miami /NCAA case.” Elena Perez has no official public disciplinary history, according to the bar.
The NCAA said last week it expects to receive the results of its external review by the end of this week.