Investigations

UNC releases contract for legal services on academic fraud, other matters

The contract UNC-Chapel Hill recently struck with a high-powered law firm shows its first priority is helping with the academic fraud scandal, which has prompted at least three lawsuits.

It says the New York-based Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom law firm's work involves "representing the University in litigation, investigation, accreditation, regulatory and other matters arising out of and related to the academic improprieties" found in former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein's 131-page investigative report. That investigation found 18 years of classes in the African and Afro-American studies department that had no instruction and provided high grades for little or no work.

The contract was released Thursday to The News & Observer after it filed a public records request. The contract also shows the firm could also be called upon to help UNC in a lawsuit that alleges reverse discrimination in admissions as well as complaints about the university's handling of sexual assault cases that have prompted a federal investigation.

Patrick Fitzgerald, a prominent former U.S. attorney in Skadden's Chicago office, is leading a team of lawyers. They are charging rates ranging from $450 to $990 an hour. The contract says the $990-an-hour partner rate is a "significant discount ... in recognition of the University's public interest mission."

At the time of the contract, UNC was facing a potential class action suit in the academic fraud case led by former football player Michael McAdoo, and a retaliation lawsuit filed by whistleblower Mary Willingham. Since then, two more UNC athletes have filed a second, potential class action suit.

The contract said that the firm will cap its fees for litigating motions to dismiss the McAdoo and Willingham suits at $325,000 each.

The contract notes that the Skadden firm represents the NCAA in "certain other unrelated matters and will not appear as counsel of record before the NCAA on behalf of the University." UNC has another law firm -- Bond, Schoeneck & King -- on hand to handle NCAA matters, including the academic fraud case.

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