The battle between Huntley Johnson—arguably best known for his successful defense of UF athletes charged with disciplinary violations—and UF vice president, general counsel and university secretary Jamie Keith culminated last month when Johnson submitted a statement to the school’s board of trustees saying that an investigation into Keith’s competence and ethics is needed and “respectfully suggest[ing] that she is not the right person to be the general counsel of the University of Florida.”
The statement included harsh comments, some from as far back as November 2015, made by employees in Keith’s office about her performance.
“Under Ms. Keith’s leadership within the state’s university system, we are considered somewhat of a joke,” read one comment. “GC overtly and covertly schemes and manipulates situations, facts and people to ensure she is not held responsible if anything goes wrong,” another more recent comment said.
Janine Sikes, a university spokesperson, said in an email that UF is “conducting an internal investigation into several allegations consistent with university practice.” She declined to comment further, as the investigation is ongoing.
Meanwhile, around the time of Johnson’s March 16 statement to the trustees, The Gainesville Sun reported that more concerns had been raised about Keith. Eighth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Bill Cervone in Gainesville told the Sun that, although there is no current investigation into Keith or her office, he received information from a source other than Johnson that raised concern.
When asked in a phone interview Wednesday morning if that information related to criminal activity, Cervone said, “some of the [materials] I have read are suggestive of that as a possibility. I don’t really care whether she’s a good boss or a mean boss.”
Keith has been on administrative leave since March 22, about three weeks after Johnson submitted to the university’s chief audit executive a letter, containing many of the same allegations included in his March 16 letter to the trustees, requesting an investigation into Keith.
A March 23 university statement said that the school’s Office of Internal Audit is “committed to conducting a thorough and independent investigation” into Johnson’s allegations. “UF and Ms. Keith agreed … she would take time off from work during the investigation to avoid even the appearance of a conflict,” the statement added.
The Gainesville Sun speculates that the battle between the two high-powered attorneys may have started over a complaint filed against Johnson’s client, UF football player Antonio Callaway.
According to an ESPN report, a woman who alleged that Callaway sexually assaulted her opted to file a complaint with the university rather than a police report about the incident.
Callaway was cleared last August after the alleged victim boycotted her Title IX hearing because a UF booster and student-athlete-turned-lawyer was overseeing the proceeding.
In January, the UF legal department hired Tallahassee attorney Mark Herron to investigate Johnson’s professional conduct. That same month, Johnson began requesting dozens of public records related to Keith, including her personnel file and emails.
On Feb. 8, Johnson filed a lawsuit against UF, its trustees and Keith, alleging failure to fulfill his public records requests. According to a hearing request the university filed in the case on Monday, it had provided, without objection or denial, responsive documents to the five requests that are the subject of the complaint.
Contact Kristen Rasmussen at KRasmussen@alm.com