State Sought To Avoid Firms With UConn Ties
The choice of an out-of-state law firm to represent the University of Connecticut in a high-profile civil matter is not sitting well with everyone.
None of the firms that submitted bids to represent UConn would complain for the record about the choice of a Philadelphia firm to conduct an investigation into how the university handled accusations of sexual misconduct against a professor. But in background conversations with the Law Tribune, some attorneys said the work should have stayed in state.
"In this economy, that's at least $1 million in legal work that will be going out of state," said one prominent lawyer who stated that he has heard similar complaints from attorneys at a number of firms.
Attorney General George Jepsen announced last week that the Philadelphia firm of Drinker Biddle & Reath was awarded the contract to represent UConn's Board of Trustees. The firm is expected to conduct an independent investigation into how the university handled internal complaints about Robert Miller, a former music professor accused of sexual misconduct involving students.
"It seems that the Attorney General is essentially saying that there's no firm in Connecticut that is qualified to do this job," another lawyer familiar with the bidding process said. Neither attorney wanted to speak publicly, out of concerns that it might jeopardize their chances to do legal work for the state in the future. Of the firms considered by the AG's Office, at least 18 are Connecticut based or have Connecticut offices.
Although the contract with Drinker Biddle caps the price tag for the initial legal bill at $250,000, state officials acknowledged the cost would likely go higher, subject to legislative approval. If the Penn State University sex scandal a few years ago is any indication of just how much an internal investigation might cost, the ultimate cost could be well over $1 million.
Drinker Biddle was one of 28 law firms that answered the request for bids to represent UConn's Board of Trustees. The request was made this summer following revelations that UConn officials didn't take prompt action against the professor, Robert Miller. According to police reports that were made public in June, allegations of sexual misconduct against Miller were known by at least one university employee as far back as 2006.
A committee was created to narrow down the applications to six finalists, which included the Connecticut firms of Day Pitney and Wiggin and Dana. The other finalists included New Jersey-based McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, which has two offices in Connecticut, and three firms with no Connecticut ties — Drinker Biddle; Ballard Spahr Stillman & Friedman; and Pepper Hamilton.
While the Attorney General's Office declined to provide an answer to why it did not pick one of the Connecticut finalists, the selection committee in its report said "the fact that a firm is currently representing, advising or acting on behalf of the University of Connecticut, or that it has done so in the recent past, could be a detriment to this representation, as it could be seen as compromising the firm's independent obligations to the board of trustees."
All of the Connecticut firms that were on the short list, the committee said it is memorandum, had represented UConn or included members who taught at its law school.