HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The University of Hawaii spent more than $53,000 hiring well-known Honolulu attorney Bill McCorriston to represent the UH Board of Regents after UH President MRC Greenwood sent the regents a letter offering to leave the university for a payment of $2 million.
Last November, Hawaii News Now first reported that Greenwood's lawyer, Jerry Hiatt, sent UH Regents the letter, claiming she'd received pressure from Gov. Neil Abercrombie and other top politicians to reinstate Jim Donovan, who'd been removed as athletics director after the failed Stevie Wonder concert.
The letter said she was willing to allow UH to "move on under new leadership if it can be done fairly," asking for a $2 million payment from UH approximately equal to her "special damages, attorneys' fees and costs."
"Two million dollars. The public hearing that, to them it speaks of black mail. 'Give me this, or else,'" said Hawaii News Now's Tannya Joaquin, in an exclusive interview with Greenwood.
"And I think it goes on further to say that I have absolutely no intention of resigning. So clearly I was not demanding a payout," Greenwood told Joaquin.
Greenwood said her letter simply detailed that if she was being forced out by people outside the university, then she would claim damages that UH would have to pay.
"And I think any reasonable person might understand that. I had no intention of taking $2 million, I wasn't asking for $2 million. I was asking for the board to understand the pressures, and they did," Greenwood said.
As a result of Greenwood's letter, the UH Board of Regents hired well-known attorney Bill McCorriston to represent them in closed-door discussions during two months last fall which concluded when she withdrew the letter and the regents issued a statement expressing their support for her.
UH said it paid McCorriston's firm $53,831 for his legal work in the Greenwood case.
McCorriston is considered to be one of the best litigators in the state. He was hired by a previous UH regents panel in 2004 when it fired then-UH President Evan Dobelle.
The faculty union said if the $53,831 was spent in the classroom instead of on legal bills, the money could have funded 13 more UH classes taught by part-time lecturers, three graduate student scholarships or one full-time community college lecturer's salary, not including benefits.
"There is a cost for these decisions," said Kris Hanselman, the associate executive director of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly. "And when we make decisions to hire the significant number of outside counsel, there is a price and that is it can diminish instruction and it can diminish opportunities for students.
UHPA represents about 4,000 UH faculty members statewide at all 10 campuses.
UH did not pay any of Greenwood's legal fees to her attorney, Jerry Hiatt, a UH spokeswoman said Monday.
In the interview, which airs Monday night at 6:30 p.m. on KGMB and at 10:30 p.m. on KHNL, Joaquin asked Greenwood if her letter would have ever been made public had Hawaii News Now not first disclosed it Nov. 13.
"If the letter had been kept in confidence, which is what the Board (of Regents) people should have done, it would have never been an issue. I would have withdrawn it," Greenwood said.
Asked what the point of the letter was, Greenwood said, "To communicate the issues confidentially."
She says the state sunshine laws limit her from talking to Board of Regents members without publicizing the date, time, place and topics they are discussing.
"We were trying to use attorney-client privilege as a mechanism for me to talk to the board about the depth of my concern about the potential interference with the university's ability to operate its own affairs," Greenwood said. "That's what I was trying to communicate. That was the only intention of the letter. It was never intended as anything else. And it never would have been interpreted as anything else had it not been released to the media."
"The Wonder Blunder has overshadowed much of what the university has accomplished and we have accomplished a very great deal," Greenwood added. "Things that people didn't believe were going to happen. Things like the Cancer Center, like (UH) West Oahu. Now we're starting Palamanui," she said, referring to the new community college campus being build on the western part of Hawaii island.
"People did not think we could keep our graduation rates up during the recession. We have served so many more students than we had before the recession," Greenwood said.
Greenwood, 70, announced two weeks ago she will retire from the UH president's position on Aug. 31, two years before her contract expires. She said she's leaving for personal reasons, to spend more time with her family and to take care of health problems. Greenwood denied that the controversy surrounding her handling of the failed Stevie Wonder concert and its aftermath had anything to do with her decision to step down.
State lawmakers this year failed to fund $23 million in faculty raises at UH and reduced the UH Manoa campus' general fund allotment by $7 million, while they also cut 100 vacant unfunded UH positions and took away the UH president's power as chief procurement officer for university construction projects.
After UH lost $200,000 on its deposit for the failed Stevie Wonder concert, it spent at least another $75,000 hiring lawyers from two law firms to perform an investigation and help UH officials prepare for State Senate hearings into the matter. The UH Board of Regents plans to spend up to $260,000 more hiring consultants to review various UH officials' responsibilities and authority and recommend changes to prevent a similar scam from happening again.