The University estimates it has paid about $7.6 million — mostly in the one year between mid-2014 and mid-2015 — to three law firms and a public relations agency for work related to the 5-year-old athletics-academics case. Including work on other issues, the four were paid $8.4 million.
A report made public Monday says the University “is currently responding to an unprecedented combination of simultaneous issues,” including pending class-action and other lawsuits; the ongoing NCAA investigation; a review by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to settle whether its probationary status can be lifted; a sharp rise in the number of public records requests, including two requests from newspapers that are the largest in UNC history; and others.
The News & Observer and The Daily Tar Heel are seeking records from the firm that performed the Wainstein investigation totaling some 5 million pages — all of which have to be reviewed to protect privacy rights. The University’s Public Records Office currently employs the equivalent of 9.2 full-time state employees at a combined personnel cost of nearly $600,000.
The law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom has billed UNC $2,776,479 — of which $1,926,479 is believed to be related to the athletics-academics case — for work this year between February and July. Skadden is defending UNC against six former athletes, who have challenged the University over the quality of the education they received; and against Mary Willingham, a former counselor in the academic center for athletes who filed complaints of violation of her rights under state personnel law and the First Amendment.
Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, the Wainstein report law firm, billed $2,673,428 between December 2014 and June 2015, primarily for processing records related to the investigation for public release.
The law firm of Bond Schoeneck & King billed $1,270,377 between December 2012 and July 2015 for professional services and consultation dating to November 2012.
The Daniel J. Edelman Inc. public relations firm billed $1,695,656 for strategic advice and services provided over seven months, between June 2014 and December 2014, that included but were not limited to issues related to the athletics-academics case.
The University’s report said this approach “is a more cost-effective approach to conducting complex work than hiring additional permanent staff and enables an institution to scale up or down the necessary level of staffing and extra resources as needed.”
The report said no state-appropriated or tuition dollars are being used for these expenses.
The report listed 20 North Carolina law firms and communications firms the University, the UNC-Chapel Hill Foundation Inc. and the UNC Health Care System use regularly.
The full report can be read at carolinacommitment.unc.edu/updates/university-responds-to-public-records-requests-for-legal-communications-firm-expenses.