Cahill out, Skadden in as Rutgers Counsel for Coach Probe

, New Jersey Law Journal


Just two weeks after Rutgers University announced the retainer of Cahill Gordon & Reindel to investigate the school's handling of issues leading to the April 3 dismissal of bellicose basketball coach Mike Rice, the firm has resigned, citing “a development that could give rise to a perception of a lack of impartiality.”

Rutgers announced Wednesday that Cahill said in a May 3 letter that Connell Foley, the Roseland firm that the university hired for advice about the Rice situation, had earlier served as Cahill’s local counsel in unrelated litigation in New Jersey. Cahill only discovered the past engagement after its retainer in the Rutgers case, it said.

Rutgers’ board of governors promptly hired a replacement — Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom — to conduct the independent review. Leading it will be Skadden partners Christopher Gunther and Stephen Robinson, the latter a former federal judge and U.S. attorney with experience conducting internal investigations. “We look forward to getting started immediately and understand the importance of this matter to all members of the university community,” Robinson said.

Skadden will make recommendations on any actions that should be taken by the Rutgers administration and the university’s governing bodies. The results of the review will be made public.

Rice was terminated on April 3, the day after ESPN aired video — compiled from three years' worth of practices — showing him shoving players, throwing basketballs at them and rattling off epithets such as "faggot" and "fairy."

Rutgers officials had been aware of the video much earlier. In November, the university’s general counsel, John Wolf, retained Connell Foley to conduct an internal investigation into whether Rice's conduct violated either the university's anti-discrimination, anti-harassment policies or his employment contract.

Connell partner John Lacey issued a report on Jan. 21 that concluded some of Rice's behavior "crossed the line" and could reasonably be interpreted to bring shame and embarrassment to the university in violation of his contract. But Lacey also said he couldn't conclude that Rice's behavior amounted to the legal definition of a hostile work environment.

Athletic director Tim Pernetti chose to suspend and fine Rice rather than terminate him, a decision to which university president Robert Barchi deferred. After the video became public, Barchi and board of governors chairman Ralph Izzo said the decision not fire Rice earlier was based on outside counsel’s advice.

Wolf stepped down from his leadership position and ultimately resigned amid the scandal. He was replaced by Rutgers Law School-Newark Dean John Farmer Jr.

Officials first revealed plans to appoint an outside investigator on April 8 and hired Cahill two weeks later.

Rutgers said Wednesday that the change in counsel will not delay the completion of the investigation and report and that Cahill will assist with a smooth transition to Skadden.

Gerald Harvey, vice chairman of the board of governors, said, “The university has full confidence in Skadden’s expertise and the firm’s ability to conduct the kind of thorough, thoughtful and efficient review that will help Rutgers move forward.”

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