Kenneth Starr, always to be remembered as the independent counsel overseeing the Whitewater investigation that led to the move to impeach President Bill Clinton, has been named president of Baylor University.
Baylor's Board of Regents announced Starr as their unanimous choice on Monday, concluding a two-year search that started in July 2008 after the university, based in Waco, Texas, fired its last president. Not surprisingly, Starr's legal connections helped him get the job.
"It began with a conversation I had with Tom Phillips, the former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas and a Baylor alumnus," Starr told us by phone. "And Tom told me, 'Ken, call Joe Armes,' and I did, which began the process."
Armes, a former Weil, Gotshal & Manges lawyer who now serves as the chief financial officer of Dallas-based Resolute Energy, also is a Baylor alum and a member of the school's Board of Regents. Phillips, now a litigation partner with Baker Botts in Austin, is a longtime friend of Starr's. He told Starr -- a native of Vernon, Texas -- to look into the vacancy at Baylor, a private, Baptist-affiliated institution established in 1845.
"I was minding my own business in November, about a week before Thanksgiving, when I obeyed Tom's orders and reached out to Joe," Starr says. "I'm a fifth-generation Texan, so I guess Thomas Wolfe was wrong, 'You can go home again.'"
Armes told Baylor's student newspaper that Starr had been approached about becoming dean of a law school in Texas, but the move wasn't right because the school "wasn't a Christian university." But despite the more than 100 names under consideration for the Baylor presidency, it didn't take long for Starr's to rise to the top.
Starr's resume is impressive. A former partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and Kirkland & Ellis, Starr also served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in the 1980s. In 1989, he became U.S. Solicitor General under former President George H.W. Bush.
While at Kirkland in 1994, Starr was appointed independent counsel for the Whitewater investigation, which later grew to include a probe into the death of deputy White House counsel Vince Foster and the subsequent sex scandals involving Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky. In 2004, Starr became dean of Pepperdine's law school and took an of counsel position at Kirkland. He's continued to practice law on the side, most recently working with the legal team representing the state of California in its defense of Proposition 8.
With the move to Baylor, will Starr wave goodbye to Kirkland and the courtroom?
"That remains to be seen, but I certainly value and treasure my long-standing relationship with Kirkland," Starr says. As for whether he'll still be able to litigate should his schedule spare the time, Starr says that "will be a determination of the [Baylor] Board of Regents to whom I will report."
Starr's move comes just as a new book about Whitewater, "The Death of American Virtue: Clinton v. Starr," by Duquesne University law school dean Ken Gormley is hitting bookstores. (The New York Times reviewed Gormley's book this past weekend.)
Gormley, who also is counsel with Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, generally praises Starr for his work as independent counsel during the 1990s. (Starr was succeeded as independent counsel by current Pryor Cashman litigation partner Robert Ray in October 1999.)
Gormley interviewed more than 160 individuals -- including Clinton and Starr -- for the book, which reveals that prosecutors were prepared to criminally indict both Clinton and the former first lady in federal court. It also includes Starr's thoughts on what he might say to Clinton if the two ran into each other today. "I'm sorry that it all happened," Starr told Gormley, as reported in the Times' book review. "Not in the form of an apology, but really as a reflection."
Starr was officially introduced to the Baylor community on Tuesday afternoon. A live feed of the event will be available here.
This article first appeared on The Am Law Daily blog on AmericanLawyer.com.