Investigations

UNC-Chapel Hill hires more legal help

UNC-Chapel Hill has hired another big-time law firm, this time for help on matters including the fake-class academic scandal and a federal investigation into claims the university mishandled and underreported sexual assault cases.

The biggest name who’ll be helping UNC: Patrick Fitzgerald, the former U.S. attorney from Chicago. Fitzgerald is best known for winning a felony conviction against Lewis “Scooter” Libby for leaking the name of a CIA official whose husband, a former U.S. ambassador, had challenged President George W. Bush’s rationale for going to war with Iraq.

Fitzgerald and others with the Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom law firm will charge an hourly rate of $990 per partner and a minimum of $450 per associate until the university determines it no longer needs the firm’s services, said Rick White, a UNC spokesman. He said there was no cap on how much the firm could charge and no limit on how long it would be working for UNC. A news release said three other attorneys in the firm were also expected to handle legal matters for UNC.

David Parker, UNC’s interim general counsel, said the university hired the firm for help as it searches for a replacement for Leslie Strohm, who recently took a similar position with the University of Louisville.

“With Skadden’s diverse expertise, it is best suited to assist the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of University Counsel on several issues the University is addressing,” Parker said in the news release. “The firm is well-resourced to provide comprehensive advice and counsel on a wide range of related litigation matters, including what we anticipate will be very extensive pretrial discovery obligations.”

In November, UNC paid former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein and his firm $3.1 million for the most extensive investigation yet into the academic fraud within what was formerly known as the Department of African and Afro-American Studies. Wainstein’s hourly rates were in the same range as Skadden’s.

The academic scandal is now the subject of an NCAA investigation. UNC is paying another law firm with expertise in NCAA matters, Bond, Schoeneck & King, to help with that investigation.

As with Wainstein’s work, UNC officials said the Skadden firm’s bills will be covered by unrestricted funds from the university’s foundation. UNC said the governor and state attorney general have signed off on the legal work.

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