During 2011-2012, the Division of General Counsel (DGC) provided legal counsel and support to every major University division, and it proudly shares in what was a momentous year for Jackson State University. The DGC’s primary function is to timely respond to all legal requests from other JSU divisions, while also managing legal matters of which the DGC takes ownership and is accountable.
Actions: During 2011-2012, the DGC implemented litigation strategies, managed outside legal counsel, coordinated discovery requests with University personnel, drafted dispositive legal pleadings, prepared witnesses for depositions and hearings, and participated in depositions and hearings. Outcomes: No verdict was awarded against the University, multiple lawsuits were dismissed, two tort cases were favorably settled, and the overall litigation case load was decreased. All discovery deadlines, some involving extensive document review and production, were met. Dispositive motions which were drafted during this time period are currently pending in federal court.
Actions: The DGC worked closely with the Division of Human Resources and the Division of Academic Affairs to investigate and resolve employee complaints as well as support appeal processes. The DGC drafted responses to complaints and advised administrators based on investigative findings. Outcomes: This work reduced potential future liability, ensured compliance with laws and policies, and promoted fairness through institutional oversight. During 2011-2012, the number of employee complaints which advanced to become an active lawsuit continued to decrease.
Actions: The DGC assisted the Division of Academic Affairs in drafting a Diversity Plan, and the DGC, in connection with other University divisions, responded to EEOC and OCR Complaints. Outcomes: The DGC responded timely to all EEOC Charges and investigations, none of which resulted in an adverse finding by the EEOC. Furthermore, the majority of Charges did not advance to litigation. The DGC negotiated and facilitated a successful settlement of an OCR complaint without any cost to or payment from the University.
Actions: The DGC drafted, reviewed, edited, and approved most of the University’s contracts, exclusive of those involving Federal grants. Outcomes: The number of contracts being reviewed has continually increased, demonstrating proper acknowledgement by divisions of review requirements. For example, over 35 contracts were drafted or edited and approved in the most recent month. As a result, review turnaround times have increased. However, the hiring of an Associate General Counsel for the Fall of 2012 will enable expedited contract review and approvals.
Actions: The DGC drafted, edited, and approved policies during 2011-2012. Outcomes: The most notable collection of policies which was approved during this time is the 2012 JSU Staff Handbook. Some notable policies govern the following: sexual harassment, employee complaint procedures, ethics and whistleblowing, commencement, background checks, free speech, limited English proficiency, tuition waivers, the use of state-owned vehicles, and the policy on policies. Additionally, the 2011 Faculty Handbook is currently under revision, and multiple other policies are being drafted.
Actions: The DGC maintained communication with IHL’s Office of Legal Affairs, and assisted with the drafting of IHL agenda items for submission. The General Counsel periodically met with attorneys of peer institutions, and regularly communicated with JSU’s Third Party Administrator in regard to claims. The DGC served as the point of contact for attorneys who are adverse to the University, and this division frequently engaged outside groups or persons in order to resolve conflicts. Outcomes: Frequent communications with IHL Legal Counsel as well as in-house counsel at peer institutions have benefited JSU and promoted a consistent approach to addressing significant legal issues which affect all Mississippi’s state institutions. Involvement in conflict resolution reduced potential liability while enabling administration to dedicate attention to other matters.
Cabinet: The General Counsel served as a member of the President’s Cabinet, where he supported major University initiatives by contributing to strategic decisions and participating in special projects. The iPad project is one such example. General Counsel and Training: The DGC routinely responded to legal inquiries, and provided training bi-monthly during new employee orientation. Public Records: The DGC responded to external requests for information, including all public records requests. Procurement: Advised on procurement issues. Real Estate: Performed title work, or otherwise supported, real estate- related projects. Public Relations: Provided occasional review of press releases. Intellectual Property: Assisted auxiliary enterprises with copyright or contractual issues. Investigations: Investigated ethics matters or other potential violations, and provided advice to the Division of Internal Audit. Staff Hiring: The DGC successfully hired an Associate General Counsel who will begin working with us Fall 2012.