AG investigating FAMU firing
The state Attorney General's Office is reviewing a 23-month-old case involving an endowed chair and a "ghost employee" at the Florida A&M University law school.
Nearly two years ago, interim FAMU President Castell Bryant fired a high-powered Kentucky lawyer, Shirley Cunningham Jr., after Bryant said she found no evidence that he had done any work as an endowed chair at the law school. Cunningham had given FAMU $1-million for the chair and then, in a highly unusual arrangement, was appointed to the chair and given a $100,000-a-year salary. (Don't remember? Here's the original story.)
Two months ago, the state Department of Financial Services concluded Bryant was right, and recommended FAMU take steps to recover nearly $200,000 for "salary and benefits not earned."
FAMU trustees referred the matter to the Attorney General's Office, which began a review last week.
Officials there are "in the process of gathering the relevant documents and conducting the legal research necessary for the preparation of any pleadings," FAMU General Counsel Elizabeth McBride told the St. Petersburg Times in an e-mail. "After this is completed, they will be conferencing with the University as to the appropriate actions to take."
A lawsuit is one of several possible courses of action, "but at this point it really is too early to speculate," said attorney general spokeswoman Sandi Copes.
The Cunningham affair has been all but forgotten amid the latest wave of FAMU troubles, but at the time it raised red flags about a lack of financial controls; put Bryant's hard-charging leadership style under scrutiny; and led to questions about how historically deep FAMU's woes go.
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- Ron Matus, state education reporter