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New Legal Chiefs Rise at Schools Shut Out of Nixed March Madness

March 20, 2020, 12:56 PM

New lawyers are moving into top in-house roles at a quartet of schools left out of March Madness, the annual U.S. men’s college basketball tournament canceled this week due to the coronavirus.

Bowling Green State University, Louisiana State University, Michigan State University, and Wichita State University all had teams that finished with winning records in 2019-20, and thus could’ve taken part in the popular—and profitable—68-team tournament. That is if Covid-19 didn’t scuttle the selection process for games slated to tip off March 17 and 18.

LSU said March 6 that it had hired Winston DeCuir Jr., a partner at Baton Rouge, La.-based DeCuir, Clark & Adams, to replace Thomas Skinner as general counsel. Skinner, a former partner at Jones Day and Mayer Brown, spent over five years as LSU’s top in-house lawyer.

Skinner was also part of an internal investigation by LSU last year that led to a nearly month-long suspension of current men’s basketball coach Will Wade over recruiting practices. Skinner announced plans to leave LSU in December, the same month that former school president F. King Alexander said he would step down after more than six years to take the top job at Oregon State University.

Skinner, who earned roughly $270,000 a year as LSU’s legal chief, resurfaced in late February as the new general counsel and adviser to the president for the University of San Diego. He did not respond to a request for comment.

“Tom was the ideal fit for the University of San Diego’s general counsel role as he possesses an extremely strategic perspective,” said a Feb. 24 statement from Joanna Herman, managing director of the in-house counsel recruiting group at legal search firm Major, Lindsey & Africa, which made Skinner’s placement.

DeCuir, Skinner’s replacement at LSU, started his legal career in 1998 at national labor and employment law firm Fisher & Phillips. His practice at DeCuir Clark, a firm founded by his father, senior partner Winston DeCuir Sr., primarily focused on advising public universities, charter schools, and other clients on employment disputes, governance matters, and procurement issues. The younger DeCuir has spent the past 16 years as counsel to the University of Louisiana System and Southern University System.

“It is an honor to be able to serve as the general counsel of my alma mater, LSU,” DeCuir said in a statement. “When my father graduated from LSU’s Law Center in 1975, he could not have imagined that his son would one day serve as the university’s general counsel.”

Bounced at Bowling Green

Almost a year after suspending its former general counsel, Bowling Green has a replacement in Natalie Jackson, who spent nearly the past five years as an associate general counsel at the University of Toledo in Ohio.

Jackson will officially join Bowling Green as its new top lawyer and ethics officer March 30. She will take over from Sean FitzGerald, who Bowling Green put on leave in April 2019 after he served a 30-day jail sentence for being held in contempt of court in a divorce case.

Media contacts at Bowling Green, which is based near Toledo, didn’t respond to a request for comment about FitzGerald’s employment, nor did FitzGerald himself. The general counsel at Bowling Green has a dual appointment as an assistant Ohio attorney general.

Michigan State’s Switch

For the fourth time in two years, Michigan State has a new top lawyer.

The university installed a permanent general counsel and vice president of legal affairs last month in Brian Quinn, who had served in an acting capacity since Feb. 1, 2019. On that date the school fired Quinn’s predecessor, Robert Young, a former chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court who had been hired for the $425,000-a-year job in 2018 following the departure of longtime legal chief Robert Noto.

Noto retired as Michigan State grappled with the fallout from a sex abuse scandal involving Larry Nassar, a former physician once employed by the school. Kristine Zayko, Noto’s former deputy, replaced him on an acting basis before joining Husch Blackwell as senior counsel in Chicago when Young was hired. Michigan State’s Nassar-related legal bills surpassed $20 million last year.

The Education Department hit Michigan State with a record $4.5 million fine in September. In January, the school announced that former chief diversity officer Paulette Granberry Russell, an attorney and key witness in a case against Michigan State’s former president, would transition to a senior advisory role. Quinn, a former Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn associate, joined Michigan State’s law department as an assistant general counsel in 2016 and was promoted to deputy general counsel two years later.

Other New Recruits

  • Wichita State’s new president Jay Golden said Jan. 21 that Stacia Boden would replace general counsel David Moses as he retired at the end of the school’s fiscal year. Boden, a former partner at Kutak Rock in Wichita, Kan., joined WSU as an associate general counsel in 2015, the same year Moses joined the university as legal chief, having previously been managing partner of Wichita’s Moses & Pate.

  • Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Mass., announced Feb. 28 its hire of Jones Day partner David Bergers in Boston as general counsel and vice president of external relations. Bergers, whose appointment is effective Aug. 1, joined Jones Day in 2017 after serving as general counsel for broker-dealer LPL Financial Holdings Inc. He was previously an acting deputy director of enforcement at the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington.

  • The Universal Technical Institute Inc., a private, for-profit system of technical colleges based in Scottsdale, Ariz., announced March 4 its addition of Christopher Kevane as senior vice president and chief legal officer. Kevane, who began his career as an associate at what is now Squire Patton Boggs, most recently served as chief legal officer at Legal+Risk Solutions LLC, where he advised executive management and boards of directors on their strategic initiatives.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com

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