UH legal bills continue to mount in wake of NCAA investigation

UH's mounting legal bills

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As the NCAA investigation into the University of Hawaii basketball team heats up, the school's legal tab continues to mount. According to testimony provided to the state Legislature, the UH has budgeted $120,000 for a mainland firm to defend against the NCAA investigation.

And it recently hired high-profile attorney William McCorriston to fight claims by former basketball coach Gib Arnold, who said he's owed more than $1.4 million in severance pay.

But that's just a fraction of the school's overall legal cost. Since 2009, the University of Hawaii has paid more than $8 million to more than two dozen outside law firms, school records show.

One firm – Carlsmith Ball – received nearly half of that total for legal and regulatory work on the UH's observatory at Mauna Kea. A big chunk also went to law firms that did employment-related work.

"That's a lot … when you have your own in-house legal counsel that supposed to be providing you with legal advice," said attorney Eric Seitz, who has a number of lawsuits against the UH.

UH General Counsel Darolyn Lendio said the UH's legal bills are relatively small compared to a similar-sized organization like the City and County of Honolulu.

Lendio, the city's former corporation counsel, said UH often has to farm out its work due to conflict of interest. Other times, the work is so complex and voluminous that it requires a large, specialty firm.

"In a normal year, we might spend between $750,000 and $800,000," she said.

"For a company that has $4 billion in net assets and $1.6 billion budget per year, that's small."

But Seitz believes much of the legal work is unnecessary.

"A lot of situations arise where the university has not gotten competent legal advice to avoid problems," he said.

"The actors in those particular cases are stubborn and aren't willing to settle cases even though any other party would do so."

State Sen. Sam Slom said some of the legal work appears to have been done to protect the self-interests of administrators.

He pointed to the controversy over the bogus Stevie Wonder concert in 2012, in which the university wound up spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

"We discovered that the university was paying law firms to redact names out of information they didn't want to provide to lawmakers," he said.

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