Rutgers University has announced the retainer of Cahill Gordon & Reindel to investigate the events leading up to the firing of coach Mike Rice, who was videotaped verbally and physically abusing players at practice during his three seasons as coach.
The entire process leading up to Rice’s dismissal is up for review, but the specific scope of the investigation is to be determined by the Board of Governors and the firm, university spokesman E.J. Miranda said Monday.
The university general counsel’s office also will be under review and thus won’t play any investigative role.
Following the investigation, the New York-based firm will advise on any recommended actions to be taken by university officials if necessary, and its findings will be made public. Officials did not indicate how long the investigation would take.
President Robert Barchi called the move "necessary if we are to learn from this experience." He added, "It is incumbent upon my administration and the Board of Governors to understand fully how this transpired, to learn from it and to take such actions necessary to ensure that our athletics program meets our expectations for integrity as well as success," he said.
Board president Ralph Izzo said Cahill Gordon "is a highly respected law firm with the experience needed to carry out this independent review."
According to Cahill Gordon’s website, there are 18 lawyers in its Corporate Governance and Investigations Practice Group — all partners except for one counsel.
The practice — which includes former federal prosecutors and attorneys who previously worked in the Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of the Treasury — typically handles investigations for publicly held companies advising on employment, accounting and other issues.
"Several other firms were considered by a small team of Board members before reaching a decision on the selection of Cahill Gordon," Miranda said.
Cahill Gordon, with 280 lawyers and revenue per lawyer of $1.165 million, grossed $326 million in 2011, according to the most recent survey of highest-grossing firms by The American Lawyer, an affiliate publication.
Information about which firm attorneys are handling the matter and their hourly rates was not available Monday.
In response to a request filed under the Open Public Records Act, the Office of the University Custodian of Records said Monday there was no written retainer agreement with Cahill Gordon. The office also would not provide the attorneys’ names and hourly rates, calling the inquiry a request for information rather than a request for a specific, identifiable document.
The university already has rung up a legal tab of at least $78,783 in connection with the Rice matter.
Officials first revealed plans to appoint a new investigator on April 8 and days later hired Rutgers Law School-Newark Dean John Farmer Jr. as the university’s new general counsel, replacing John Wolf, who stepped down from his leadership position and ultimately resigned amidst the scandal.
Farmer did not return a call and email Monday.
William Hartnet, Cahill Gordon’s executive committee chairman; Charles Gilman and John Tripodoro, co-managing partners; and firm spokeswoman Lynn Tellefsen, also did not respond to calls and emails.
Rice was terminated on April 3, the day after ESPN aired video clips of him shoving players, throwing basketballs at them and rattling off epithets such as "faggot" and "fairy."
The video – which included footage from three years’ worth of practices – was assembled by former Director of Player Personnel Eric Murdock.
Murdock’s attorney, Barry Kozyra, contacted Rutgers last July 11, claiming that Murdock was effectively fired for discussing Rice’s antics.
Pernetti enlisted the help of Wolf, who consulted with outside counsel.
At a subsequent meeting attended by Jackson Lewis managing partner Richard Cino and Pernetti, Murdock showed the 30-minute video, prompting Wolf to retain an outside investigator — John Lacey of Roseland’s Connell Foley.
Lacey’s Jan. 21 report contended that 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.
According to Barchi, it was outside counsel who advised that Rice could not be fired for cause, though he did not specify whether it was Connell Foley, Jackson Lewis or both.
Pernetti ultimately decided to suspend and fine Rice rather than terminate him, a decision to which Barchi deferred, according to both men’s accounts.
Barchi said he didn’t see the video until after its airing on April 2, and fired Rice the next day.
Days later, Pernetti resigned, signing an agreement that entitled him to future salary and a lump-sum payment totaling $1.2 million, as well as other benefits.