UNC hired a lawyer to negotiate the Silent Sam deal. Then they asked the state for permission.

WBTV Investigates: Records show UNC didn’t get permission until after deal was signed
A surprise lawsuit and settlement agreement that called for the statue to be permanently removed from campus and given to the Sons of Confederate Veterans
Published: Feb. 1, 2022 at 3:52 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 1, 2022 at 5:23 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WBTV) – The UNC System hired an outside attorney to negotiate the deal to permanently remove the Silent Sam statue from campus without having approval to do so, as required by state law.

A surprise lawsuit and settlement agreement that called for the statue to be permanently removed from campus and given to the Sons of Confederate Veterans—along with millions of dollars—was filed the day before Thanksgiving 2019.

The deal was approved by Judge Allen Baddour within minutes of being filed. Records previously obtained by WBTV show Baddour was in frequent contact with the private lawyer hired by the UNC System, Ripley Rand, as he negotiated the deal and that Baddour, Rand and a lawyer for the Sons of Confederate Veterans met to finalize the deal at Rand’s law office.

Baddour later overturned the settlement agreement under pressure from a group UNC Chapel Hill alumni who filed a brief with the court arguing the basis for the settlement agreement was legally flawed.

At the time the deal was negotiated and finalized, the UNC System had to get permission from the governor and attorney general to hire a private lawyer.

WBTV requested all documents related to the approval process for the UNC System to hire Rand from Attorney General Josh Stein’s office in January 2020. Stein’s office produced the records two years later, in January 2022.

The records show the UNC System didn’t seek approval to hire Rand until after he began negotiating the Silent Sam agreement and that Stein and a lawyer for Governor Roy Cooper did not approve Rand’s hiring until after the agreement had been signed.

Rand first texted Baddour, the judge, to discuss the Silent Sam matter on November 18, 2019.

“Good afternoon – do you have a few minutes to talk this afternoon or this evening about the matter we talked about a while ago?” Rand asked Baddour.

Text messages show the pair talked by phone that evening and then met each of the next two days.

Records provided by Stein’s office this month show the UNC System lawyers didn’t ask for approval to hire Rand until November 19.

And the records show the approval wasn’t granted until November 25.

Documents provided by Stein’s office show the agreement between the UNC System and the Sons of Confederate Veterans was signed on November 21.

The email from Stein’s Office to Will McKinney, who was then serving as Cooper’s general counsel, forwarding the request to hire Rand noted the need for it to be approved quickly.

“Please note that this is a time sensitive request,” the staffer in Stein’s office wrote McKinney.

McKinney approved the request in an email less than two hours after receiving it.

A spokesman for Cooper claimed McKinney’s approval to hire Rand was routine.

“Our office routinely approves outside counsel when recommended by the NC Department of Justice,” Porter said. “The UNC System discussed their intention to hire outside counsel with our office as early as November 15. We received NC DOJ’s recommendation that the UNC System be authorized to hire outside counsel on November 25, 2019 and it was approved.”

The records produced by Stein’s office do not include any communication that show communication about Rand being hired prior to the request on November 19. And Cooper’s office did not produce any records to support Porter’s claim when asked to do so by a reporter.

In an email, a spokeswoman for Stein, Nazneen Ahmed, distanced the Attorney General from both Rand’s hiring and the Silent Sam agreement.

“Our office was made aware in Nov. 2019 that UNC had hired outside counsel in relation to this matter. Our office regularly approves requests from state agencies and universities to hire outside counsel, as we did in this case,” Ahmed said.

“We also learned about the agreement the University and Board of Governors negotiated in this matter after it occurred. That agreement was reached without our input – as you’re aware, our office’s role was limited to advising, after the fact, whether or not the agreement was legal. Additional questions about the hiring of outside counsel or this agreement should go to UNC, which handled all of this matter.”

A spokesman for the UNC System, Josh Ellis, would not offer an explanation as to why the system hired Rand without proper approval.

“As indicated in the documents, the governor’s office approved several law firms, including Womble Bond Dickson, to provide outside counsel and related legal advice to the UNC System and its constituent institutions. Later, the university sought and received approval to retain Ripley Rand for possible litigation.”

The records provided by Stein’s office show the UNC System was not authorized to hire outside counsel for matters related to the Silent Sam litigation prior to November 25, 2019.

Records show the UNC System was authorized to pay a total of $250,000 in legal fees for Rand’s work. The records do not show if any of that amount was for time billed prior to the system receiving authorization to hire Rand, as required by law.

Copyright 2022 WBTV. All rights reserved.