UNC-Chapel Hill officials dispute claims about new chairman

From staff reportsOctober 14, 2011 

— UNC-Chapel Hill officials issued statements this week disputing comments a sports writer wrote in a blog about the new board chairman's professional connection to media organizations and his involvement in discussions about the NCAA's probe into the football program.

Wade Hargrove, a Raleigh lawyer, became chairman of the board this summer, the day Tar Heel football coach Butch Davis was fired.

Eddy Landreth, an area sports writer, wrote in a blog post that Hargrove had failed to disclose details about his law practice construed by the columnist to be "a potential conflict of interest."

Hargrove, a senior partner in the Raleigh offices of the Brooks Pierce law firm, has spent most of his professional career representing media organizations on issues large and small.

Landreth mentioned The News & Observer as a client of Hargrove and his firm.

For years, The N&O has been represented by the Raleigh firm now known as Stevens Martin Vaughn and Tadych. Occasionally, The N&O has hired other firms to represent it, including Hargrove's firm. Hargrove himself has not represented The N&O in more than 10 years.

Stevens Martin represents The N&O and a coalition of media organizations in an existing lawsuit related to the NCAA investigation of the Tar Heel football program.

Landreth said The News & Observer repeatedly called for the resignation of Butch Davis. Indeed, Caulton Tudor, an N&O sports columnist, did write a column calling for Davis to step down. But the editorial board never took a stance.

Landreth suggested Hargrove might have violated the state ethics policy by not recusing himself from discussions about the NCAA investigation and the media's case against the university.

"In the case of the public records lawsuit filed against four university employees, neither Mr. Hargrove nor the law firm of which he is a member has any role in the litigation. In addition no action was required or taken by the board," Leslie Chambers Strohm, UNC-CH vice chancellor and general counsel, said in a prepared statement.

She disputed the blogger's contentions of violations of the State Ethics Act.

Joy Bryde, the conflicts of interest officer at UNC-CH, added that Hargrove's service on the UNC-CH board was not a conflict of interest, an opinion shared by the State Ethics Commission.

"Wade Hargrove is a man of the highest integrity," said Bob Winston, the previous UNC-CH board chairman. "It (Wade representing media organizations) was no secret. As chair of the board of trustees, I never had a concern that Wade had any conflicts of interest or ethical issues."

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