WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. — West Liberty University’s Faculty Senate wants the West Virginia State Bar to investigate the recent contract negotiations between the university’s Board of Governors and former president Robin Capehart.
Senate members voted 12-2 Tuesday to file a complaint with the bar’s Lawyer Disciplinary Board, alleging a conflict of interest between the Board of Governors’ legal counsel, John Gompers, and Capehart because Gompers represented Capehart in four real estate transactions during October 2013. Nine Faculty Senate members were absent at the time of the vote.
Board of Governors members voted unanimously March 11 to accept Capehart’s resignation and reassign him as a legislative liaison and consultant to the university through the end of this year, making the same $220,000 salary he had been earning as president. Capehart is facing a West Virginia Ethics Commission complaint alleging he used university resources to promote his private film company’s projects.
In the agreement, Capehart and the board agreed not to sue each other over any matters related to his time as president.
He also must leave the university-owned president’s house by June 1 and surrenders fringe benefits such as health insurance and retirement he would have received under his presidential contract, which ran through June 30, 2016.
“I think there is ample evidence to let someone on the outside look at this,” said Faculty Senate member Jim Haizlett, who made the motion to file the complaint. “That’s all we’re saying. … If he’s clean, so be it.”
Two of the transactions for which Gompers acted as trustee involved the purchase of a condominium by Capehart and his wife. Two others involved Brentwood Properties LLC, for which Capehart is listed as an officer on the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office website.
Gompers said Tuesday he’s not representing Capehart in any current legal matters, and doesn’t believe his representing the Board of Governors in contract negotiations with Capehart was improper in any way.
He cited the West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys, which prohibit lawyers from representing a former client’s opponent in “the same or (a) substantially related matter,” or using information gained from representing a prior client against that person in a future legal matter. Gompers said neither applies to the Capehart contract negotiation.
“I did a title. … Just because you do a real estate transaction for someone, there’s no conflict of interest,” Gompers said. “That’s ludicrous.”
Capehart referred questions to his attorney, Robert Fitzsimmons, who could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday evening. Board of Governors Chairman George Couch also could not be reached.
Several faculty senators said they plan to express their displeasure with the agreement at the board’s next meeting, set for April 15.
“This is the time for our voices to be heard. … The board ought to know that we’re not satisfied with the package he’s receiving,” said member Susan Herrick.
Faculty Senate members also voted unanimously to write a letter to West Virginia Ethics Commission chairman Robert Wolfe “strongly requesting” the commission not settle its complaint against Capehart prior to the scheduled April 16 hearing.
The state ethics act allows for such settlements, called “conciliation agreements,” which must be made public under state law.
Capehart’s resignation took effect Sunday. Former provost and vice president John McCullough is serving as interim president.