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August 31, 2009 12:43 PM

Legal Tab So Far in University of Illinois Admissions Scandal: $439,800

Posted by Brian Baxter

The University of Illinois has spent nearly $500,000 on legal bills for six firms retained in the past two months to help it navigate an admissions scandal, reports the Chicago Tribune.

The bulk of the money went to Latham & Watkins, which advised the university on cooperating with the state commission reviewing the school's admissions procedures. In a statement released Friday, University of Illinois general counsel Thomas Bearrows said that Latham has been paid $392,120.

The statement provided further details, including that in-house staff and Latham reviewed and provided the commission with more than 10,000 pages of documents. The lawyers prepared 45 witnesses for testimony before the Illinois Admissions Review Commission in less than eight weeks. (Former UI College of Law dean Heidi Hurd testified about pressure to accept favored applicants in July; the law school has since announced a new admissions policy.)

Chaired by federal judge Abner Mikva--a former state legislator, congressman, White House counsel, and law professor--the commission released its final 45-page report on August 6 calling for the university's trustees to resign. (University chairman Niranjan Shah resigned shortly before the report was made public.) The report found that unqualified students were admitted because of political connections; it also called for performance reviews of certain high-ranking administrators.

Invoices submitted by the school's outside counsel were released in response to several Freedom of Information Act requests filed by news outlets. The records reveal that Illinois firm Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen was paid $11,605.88 for work related to an open-records suit filed by the Chicago Tribune. Chicago firm Burke Burns & Pinelli was paid $10,111.50 for assistance on FOIA requests. And Jenner & Block received $14,691.07 for work related to potential civil suits against the university.

Hinshaw & Culbertson was paid $11,265.57 for assistance on a civil suit related to a series of records requests filed by the Tribune. The firm has since withdrawn from the case due to a potential conflict of interest. (The firm has represented a campaign fund of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, whose office has been implicated in the admissions scandal.)

The university likely isn't done paying lawyers for the 60-day inquiry by the state.

According to a report by The News-Gazette of Champaign, Ill., local firm Thomas, Mamer & Haughey was retained by the school to handle work on FOIA requests. The firm has not yet submitted its legal bills to the university.

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