Wheeler’s mother hires new lawyer in wrongful death suit

Matt Donnelly

The mother of deceased football player Rashidi Wheeler fired Johnnie Cochran’s law firm on Wednesday and hired new counsel to represent her in a wrongful death lawsuit she filed against Northwestern.

Linda Will announced at her son’s August funeral that she would retain Cochran’s firm. Will’s suit claims that the NU football staff insufficiently attended to her son after he collapsed and died during a voluntary workout on Aug. 3. The suit names seven members of NU’s athletic department, including Director of Athletics Rick Taylor and head football coach Randy Walker.

Will hired another high-profile Chicago firm, Powers, Rogers & Smith, to represent her.

Larry Rogers Sr., Will’s new lead attorney, said Thursday that he was not familiar with the case but was reading up on files recently sent to him by Will’s former attorney, Jim Montgomery.

“We believe she has a claim for what’s happened to her son,” Rogers said.

Rogers declined to comment on when Will first contacted him for his services. Will was unavailable for comment Thursday.

Will’s swap comes just a few weeks after she and her ex-husband George Wheeler agreed to jointly file a suit. The two had been separated for more than 20 years and had been debating behind the scenes over who would control Wheeler’s estate. Will filed the initial lawsuit, but now both parents’ names are listed as plaintiffs.

Alan Cubbage, NU’s vice president for university relations, said Thursday that Will’s decision will not affect the university’s case.

“I don’t anticipate any significant change,” Cubbage said. Cubbage said he had not spoken with Will’s new attorney yet.

University President Henry Bienen released a statement Oct. 9 hinting that the school still was looking into the role NCAA-banned dietary supplements might have played in Wheeler’s death. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office toxicology report, released in August, attributed Wheeler’s death to exercise-induced asthma. The university’s investigation will test that claim.

Both sides say it could be as long as three and a half years before the case reaches trial.