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The former dean of the University of Maryland School of Law has retained the managing partner of DLA Piper‘s Baltimore office after a university audit found that she received more than $400,000 in “questionable compensation payments” between 2007 and 2009. “University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) made questionable compensation payments totaling $410,000 to a senior management employee,” the audit report said. “In addition, these payments were not disclosed to the state General Assembly’s budget committees. The routine audit examined University of Maryland spending between 2005 and 2008. In an interview with the Baltimore Sun, state Sen. Edward Kasemeyer disclosed that the employee in question was Karen Rothenberg, who served as the law school’s dean between 2000 and 2009 and remains on the faculty. In a written statement released on Saturday, sitting law school dean Phoebe A. Haddon said that a university investigation of the findings was underway, but that University of Maryland System Chancellor William E. Kirwan had directed officials not to comment. “I think it is important to withhold judgment, as all the facts are not known to us,” Haddon wrote. The audit said that in addition to her $360,00 annual salary in 2007, Rothenberg received $350,000 for sabbatical leave that she did not take. The sabbatical payments were approved by university President David J. Ramsay. The audit noted that the university had no policy that would allow payments to employees for unused sabbatical time. However, university policy does require those who take sabbatical leave to document their work, the audit said. Rothenberg was paid an additional $60,000 for summer research between 2007 and 2009. Those payments were approved by one of her subordinates, the audit said. Rothenberg declined to comment when reached by telephone on Monday, citing the pending investigation. Paul Tiburzi, the DLA Piper partner who represents Rothenberg, also declined comment. Tiburzi is chairman of the firm’s state legislative and public policy practice group and a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Law. In addition to the university’s investigation of the audit findings, state legislators have taken an interest. A hearing has been scheduled before the House appropriations committee on Thursday, with a second hearing the following Monday before the Senate committee on budget and taxation. Several legislators have said publicly that the audit raised questions about financial oversight at the university. Larry Gibson, who has served on the law school faculty since 1974, leapt to Rothenberg’s defense in a letter to the Sun, describing the scrutiny of her as unfair. In a telephone interview, Gibson said that university officials had simply done what they needed to do to keep a talented dean from leaving for some other law school. “The average term of a dean is about five years, and at that point she was at the height of her success and had [career] options,” Gibson said, noting that Rothenberg was a successful fundraiser and had improved the school’s U.S. News and World Report ranking. “I knew she was contemplating leaving the law school, and a whole bunch of us didn’t want that to happen.” In 2006, Gibson said, he urged Rothenberg to hire an attorney to negotiate with the university for more money. She didn’t hire an attorney, but negotiated directly with university officials, he said. Gibson said that it is common to pay law school deans what essentially are bonuses through stipends, sabbaticals or special funds. The university would be placed at a disadvantage in recruiting and retaining top employees if it were stripped of compensation flexibility, he said. The audit recommended that the university establish reforms including stricter sabbatical guidelines.

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