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Fiesta Bowl Seeks New GC After Second Internal Probe Questions Compliance

Posted May 3, 2011 8:05 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Updated: The Fiesta Bowl has named a new interim general counsel after an internal report found evidence of campaign finance violations, inappropriate expenditures and excessive pay to top executives at the organization.

Bingham McCutchen partner Nathan Hochman has the interim job, replacing Snell & Wilmer partner Craig Williams, according to a story by Corporate Counsel. Snell & Wilmer has also been ousted as outside counsel, the story says, although the law firm says it still does some work for the organization.

A statement by the board for the Fiesta Bowl, which sponsors college football games, says it wants a new general counsel to ensure that strict new policies and procedures are followed, Corporate Counsel says.

The report questioned whether a prior internal probe completed in 2009 by former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods covered up irregularities, including campaign contributions made by employees who were later reimbursed. The investigation was completed while Williams was general counsel. Williams had discussed concerns with one-time Fiesta Bowl president John Junker that the investigation was a friendly one, the new internal report (PDF) says, but did not initially bring those concerns to the board.

Woods and the Fiesta Bowl lawyer-lobbyist who recommended his hiring, Gary Husk, are under investigation by the State Bar of Arizona, the Arizona Republic reports. The new internal probe alleges Husk participated in the investigation, coaching some employees on how to answer Woods’ questions and steering some reimbursed employees away from Woods, the Arizona Republic says. Woods says he was paid $55,000 for the probe and gave $20,000 of it to Husk, according to the report.

Woods told the Arizona Republic he welcomed the investigation “since witnesses have alleged a lawyer deliberately deceived me.” Husk told the publication he intends to cooperate fully. He has previously denied any role in a cover-up, according to a prior Arizona Republic story.

James Condo, chair of Snell & Wilmer’s litigation practice, tells the ABA Journal that Williams resigned of his own accord in December and he did nothing wrong. Nor was the law firm “ousted” from representing the Fiesta Bowl. “We continue to do work as requested by the Fiesta Bowl and at the direction of Nathan Hochman,” Condo says.

Williams served in an unpaid role as outside general counsel for the Fiesta Bowl for seven or eight years. “The special committee report makes it very clear that Mr. Williams hasn’t been implicated in any wrongdoing, and Mr. Williams has a truly unblemished record of unpaid service to the Fiesta Bowl,” Condo says. Nor was there wrongdoing by the firm or any other lawyers there, he says.

Compliance with election finance law was the responsibility of Husk, Condo says. There was no need for Williams to bring his concerns about a “friendly investigation” to the board or its executive committee, Condo adds, since board members had the same information about the probe as Williams did.

Williams resigned because, as a potential witness, he could be “walled off” from many Fiesta Bowl activities as a special committee investigated, Condo says. Williams decided it was in the best interests of the Fiesta Bowl to resign so there would be no confusion about lines of authority at a busy time, according to Condo.

Additional coverage:

Arizona Republic: “Experts: Fiesta Bowl misconduct could bring felony charges”

Associated Press: “Attorney who conducted investigation of Fiesta Bowl says organizers following recommendations”

Updated on May 4 to include information from James Condo of Snell & Wilmer.

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