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UC Irvine gave Bren a say in dean selection

Times Staff Writers

UC Irvine gave Orange County billionaire Donald Bren the right to be consulted in the selection of a dean for its new law school in return for his $20-million donation, according to documents released to The Times on Thursday.

The eight-page gift agreement reveals the scope of what Bren received for his money, ranging from major matters such as selection of the dean to specific rules governing how prominently signs featuring his name were to be displayed on the campus.

Signs on law school buildings must read “Donald Bren School of Law” and be at least twice the size of the building name. Bren’s must be the largest and most prominently displayed name on the building, according to the agreement.

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Chancellor Michael Drake in September abruptly fired Erwin Chemerinsky as founding dean -- even before he announced his selection publicly -- only to offer him the job again five days later after a national outcry ensued.

Despite the agreement, Bren’s foundation insisted Thursday that it had nothing to do with the Chemerinsky matter.

The June agreement required the UCI chancellor and the chair of the law school dean search committee to “periodically and confidentially consult” with the Donald Bren Foundation in choosing a dean and for any future dean searches, including information on leading candidates.

Drake said in September that he had no conversations with Bren or his advisors about Chemerinsky.

A spokesman for Bren said at the time that the Irvine Co. chairman had nothing to do with the ouster. In a statement issued Thursday, the Bren Foundation said, “neither the Foundation nor Mr. Bren was consulted prior to the hiring, and as we’ve stated before, Mr. Bren didn’t know enough about Dr. Chemerinsky to offer an opinion, and has not offered an opinion on Dr. Chemerinsky in the past or up to this moment.”

Asked if UCI broke the agreement by not consulting with Bren, foundation spokesman John Christensen said, “It was a courtesy, it didn’t happen, and we’re looking forward to a world-class law school at UCI.”

Drake did not respond to calls seeking comment Thursday.

Jeffrey S. Brand, dean of the University of San Francisco School of Law, said he would never enter into a confidentiality clause like the one between UCI and Bren, although he said he was not suggesting that UCI had ceded its dean-selection authority. He called the language in the agreement “dangerous” and said it “could be viewed as a subterfuge permitting undue influence.”

Stephen Gillers, a legal ethics specialist and former vice dean at New York University School of Law, said the agreement did not trouble him. “It implies no control. . . . I think it is fair to assume that nothing more than an expression of views is contemplated or will be tolerated.”

The Chemerinsky affair became national news in September when the well-known legal scholar said Drake had withdrawn the job offer because of conservative pressure over his outspoken liberal views and that he had been told that there would be a “bloody fight” within the UC Regents.

Drake has denied Chemerinsky’s account and has insisted that he didn’t lose the dean’s position because of his politics, but because he expressed himself in a polarizing way.

Five days later, Drake flew to Chemerinsky’s home in North Carolina and reached an agreement to rehire him.

But Drake has offered little detail about whom he communicated with before he made the initial decision to pull the offer.

Earlier this week, in response to a public records request from The Times, UCI released hundreds of pages of e-mails, letters and phone calls about the hiring, firing and rehiring of Chemerinsky. The documents show that an overwhelming number of students, alumni, faculty and community members were dismayed with Drake’s decision to fire the dean and that many saw it as a serious violation of academic freedom.

But the communications reveal little about why Drake removed Chemerinsky, and the chancellor has refused to provide a full explanation.

One of the few who weighed in before Drake fired Chemerinsky was state appeals court Justice William F. Rylaarsdam.

“I am concerned that he is the wrong person for a law school in Orange County,” Rylaarsdam wrote in an Aug. 30 letter. “I do not know to what extent the new law school will look to the Orange County business community for support. If such support is contemplated, however, the selection committee should realize that Professor Chemerinsky and the faculty he would be inclined to recruit would not be well received by that community.”

Most of the communications released to The Times came into Drake’s office after Chemerinsky’s firing became public.

Another prominent judge who weighed in, whose name was blacked out by UCI, was described as “the presiding judge of the local federal court,” apparently Judge Alicemarie Stotler, a Reagan appointee.

“I have complete confidence in the chancellor’s judgment, and a continued search is surely in the university’s best interest if he says so,” she wrote.

Stotler did not return a call and e-mail seeking comment.

UCI Assistant Vice Chancellor David G. Schetter wrote Sept. 13 that his neighbor, John Arguelles, a retired California Supreme Court justice, had written Drake opposing Chemerinsky’s appointment.

“I am sure he would be happy to advise the Chancellor on further law school developments,” he wrote.

No such letter was included in UCI’s response to The Times’ public records request.

Also sending messages of support for Drake were Orange County Superior Court Judge Gail Andler and Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Thomas Maddock.

One e-mail also tells Drake’s staff to interrupt him if he receives a call from Kenneth Starr, dean of Pepperdine’s law school and the former special prosecutor whose investigation into President Clinton’s activities led to the Monica Lewinsky revelations. Starr did not respond to a call and an e-mail seeking comment.

Drake’s decision also led some to cut off their donations to UCI.

One caller, Jonathan Chambers, left this message: “In the last 10 years I have donated over $418,000 to UCI, but from now on my family will donate to . . . law schools that are open and honest.”

Michael and Let Boeck e-mailed that “we will remove the name of UCI from our last will and testament.”

Political figures also weighed in against Drake’s decision.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles), a UC Regent, wrote Drake on Sept. 13 to express “profound displeasure” that Drake had rescinded the offer to Chemerinsky.

“This series of events is embarrassing, and the decision to fire Professor Chemerinsky results in a great loss to the university and the state of California,” he wrote.

Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally (D-Compton) sent Drake an e-mail Sept. 14 urging him to “reverse your decision. Admit you made a mistake.”

Documents released this week also detailed the major donors to the law school, which is expected to open in 2009. Donors include Mark Robinson, an Orange County personal injury lawyer, who pledged $1 million, and 11 law firms that donated $100,000 each.

Joan Irvine Smith, heiress to the James Irvine land fortune, who donated $1 million through her foundation, e-mailed to the chancellor a New York Times editorial critical of Drake’s decision to fire Chemerinsky, with no added comments.

tony.barboza@latimes.com

henry.weinstein@latimes.com

garrett.therolf@latimes.com


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