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Kenneth Starr to leave Pepperdine to become president of Baylor University

Kenneth Starr, the former special prosecutor who took on President Clinton over the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky scandals, will be leaving his post as dean of Pepperdine University School of Law this spring to become president of Baylor University in Waco, Texas, the schools announced Monday.

Starr has headed the Malibu law school since 2004. During his West Coast tenure, he also represented the supporters of Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage, during a challenge before the California Supreme Court last year. Starr won the high-profile case, with the state high court upholding the voter initiative’s legality in a May ruling.

Starr came to prominence -- and controversy -- when as independent counsel he investigated Clinton over his affair with White House intern Lewinsky. The Starr report alleged Clinton had lied in sworn testimony about his relationship with the intern, leading to his December 1998 impeachment by the House of Representatives. Two months later, the Senate failed to muster a two-thirds majority to convict Clinton of perjury, obstruction of justice and malfeasance in office.

Starr’s decision to move was prompted by a desire to move back to his home state, Starr said.

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“I adore Pepperdine and continue to love being in service at Pepperdine, but Texas is my home state,” he said of his decision to relocate to the Big 12 conference school.

Starr said he hoped to remain active in the practice of law in his new position but that it would be up to the Baylor Board of Regents to decide whether he should take on off-campus issues as he did in defending Proposition 8 while at Pepperdine.

Starr earned his law degree from Duke University in 1973 and clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger before going into private practice for Los Angeles-based law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. He later served as a federal appeals court judge before being named by President George H. W. Bush as solicitor general in 1989.

Starr, 63, will become the 14th president of Baylor, a private Baptist university. He replaces John M. Lilley, who was fired in 2008. Baylor’s enrollment this academic year was more than 14,600, compared with Pepperdine’s 3,000 undergraduates and 5,000 advanced-degree students.

In a statement posted on Baylor’s website, Board of Regents member Joseph B. Armes said Starr was “a fifth-generation Texan who, throughout his distinguished career in law, the academy and public service, has been an articulate advocate for Christian ideals in the public square.”

In announcing Starr’s June 1 departure for Baylor, Pepperdine President Andrew K. Benton said the university was launching a nationwide search for a replacement at the law school.

“Ken has had a tremendous impact on our students, the law school, and the Pepperdine community at large,” Benton said. “His leadership, his love of scholarship and his devotion to our students helped raise the national stature of our school, and we will benefit from the good he accomplished here for many years to come.”

carol.williams@latimes.com

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