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Two defendants, including Nuñez, added to Lobo player’s lawsuit

UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez has been added to J.J. Caldwell’s lawsuit against the university. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

The list of defendants in Lobo basketball player J.J. Caldwell’s due process lawsuit against the University of New Mexico grew by two on Monday as the suspended point guard is still awaiting a ruling on whether his emergency ban from campus can be lifted, potentially allowing him to return to the team.

UNM’s Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez and the landlords of Caldwell’s Lobo Village apartment, who seem to be amping up their efforts to evict Caldwell from the facility, were added Monday to a Jan. 2 lawsuit filed for the UNM junior point guard by his attorneys Justine Fox-Young and Paul Kennedy.

Nuñez said Monday he is aware he’s been added to the lawsuit, but could not comment on pending litigation while UNM, on behalf of the UNM-associated defendants named in the suit has also declined comment on the specifics of the case other than confirming the emergency ban is still in effect and that Caldwell remains suspended indefinitely from the Lobo basketball team. After starting the first 13 games of the season, he has now missed the past five.

According to an Albuquerque Police Department report, a battery against a household member report was taken Dec. 16 from an ex-girlfriend alleging Caldwell and the woman got into a fight at his apartment on Dec. 14 and he hit her, grabbed her by her arms and at one point put his hands around her neck – allegations he has denied.

He has not been charged with a crime and the case is under review by Alamogordo’s 12th Judicial District Attorney John Sugg, who on Monday said the matter is still under review with no timetable for a decision on whether criminal charges will be pursued.

On Jan. 2, Caldwell sued UNM stating, in part, “This case arises out of the University of New Mexico’s unlawful action banning Joseph Caldwell from the University campus, evicting him from his residence, disallowing him from playing basketball for the University and banning him from registering for courses for the 2020 Spring Semester.”

The suit alleges Caldwell was called to a meeting Dec. 19 run by Nuñez with “several other individuals from the athletic department and from the UNM administration” on hand.

It was there, the lawsuit states, that Nuñez told Caldwell “he was banned from campus indefinitely and also banned from playing or practicing with the basketball team.” Nobody at the meeting, Caldwell’s attorneys say, told the junior point guard what the allegations against him were at that time.

That was the same day Caldwell received an eviction notice from Lobo Village stating, according to the lawsuit, he was being evicted because of his “unlawful action causing serious physical harm to another person.”

Lobo Village is described on the UNM website as an “on-campus private partner housing” facility, though leases are signed directly with ACC OP LLC, the other newly named defendant in the case. Caldwell’s lease states he is “subject to UNM’s judicial process procedures.”

The amended complaint states that Lobo Village has been trying to evict him for weeks despite UNM not yet having ruled on his case and his still not having been charged with a crime. He received an email on Thursday from Lobo Village counsel that read, in part: “If you do not contact management and turn in keys and vacate your unit prior to 1 p.m. tomorrow (Friday), I will file against you. In it, I will not only place an eviction against you, but will put a money judgment against you for my attorney fees and court costs incurred in the eviction, pursuant to your lease agreement. So as you can see, this WILL affect your credit, and future housing options, which I do not believe that you want.”

The suit also alleges that in a Dec. 20 meeting with UNM’s Office of Equal Opportunity, Caldwell denied the charges against him and later met with Nasha Torrez, who Caldwell’s attorneys allege said the student would have to wait until at least after the university’s holiday break concluded on Jan. 2.

Caldwell and Torrez met again last Friday. In that meeting, according to the suit, Nasha Torrez “refused to provide any basis whatsoever for the interim ban” and also stated she was “entirely uninvolved in that process” to ban Caldwell, which was decided on by a student conduct officer in her office. Torrez is hearing his appeal to have the ban lifted.

UNM, while not commenting on Caldwell’s case specifically, said Monday that interim bans are “not common, nor done lightly since it can have a major impact on a student’s life,” wrote UNM spokesperson Cinnamon Blair. She added UNM had seven such bans in 2019, four of which fell under Title IX guidelines.

She added that a student conduct officer and the university’s Title IX coordinator, based on national “best practices” guidelines, consider such factors as whether the alleged incident happened on campus, have there been multiple such allegations and to what level the allegations rose to before issuing a ban.

There is not a timetable on Torrez’s decision on Caldwell’s appeal.

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