Advertisement

Starr Says He Won't Take Jobs at Pepperdine

April 17, 1998|RONALD J. OSTROW and ROBERT L. JACKSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr said Thursday that, because his investigation "has expanded considerably and the end is not yet in sight," he is withdrawing from positions promised him at Pepperdine University.

Complaining that legal maneuvering by reluctant witnesses is slowing his investigation of President Clinton, Starr said that he gave up dual deanships at Pepperdine in Malibu because he could not be there by the end of the spring term. Withdrawing will give the university time to find a replacement before the next academic year begins with the fall term.

While the decision is a blow to Pepperdine, which had hoped to enhance its prestige and curriculum by employing the highly visible prosecutor and former federal judge, the reasons behind it were not welcomed at the White House, for they indicate that Starr will not wrap up his investigation swiftly, as Clinton supporters have demanded.

The announcement also could serve to repair Starr's reputation to some degree, because it suggests such intense dedication to his prosecutorial mission that he is willing to give up the Pepperdine jobs. Public opinion polls show that Starr is held in low esteem by most Americans, who regard his inquiry as politically motivated.

Also Thursday, Starr told the Justice Department that his office would have no conflict of interest in investigating allegations that a Whitewater witness was paid by Clinton foes while aiding prosecutors.

Pepperdine President David Davenport said Thursday that university officials "were delighted when Judge Starr agreed to accept the deanships, and we are disappointed that he will not be able to undertake these roles."

Davenport said that he and Starr "agree that the university's needs have to be met. Unfortunately, events beyond his control have prevented him from joining us."

Starr, in response to questions from reporters, dismissed suggestions that his decision was influenced by criticism that Richard Mellon Scaife, a conservative Pittsburgh billionaire and an aggressive critic of Clinton, had made substantial contributions to Pepperdine.

Starr told reporters on the stairs of the federal courthouse here that he had never met or spoken with Scaife. "I have had no arrangement--implicit, explicit, direct or indirect--with him."

But White House spokesman James Kennedy said that, by "withdrawing from the deanship of the Scaife-funded Public Policy Institute at Pepperdine University, Mr. Starr acknowledged one of his conflicts of interest in this matter." Richard Larry, president and trustee of the Sarah Scaife Foundation, said that Scaife or the foundation have given $12.7 million to Pepperdine since 1961, including $1.1 million to the new public policy school. The last of four installments of the $1.1 million will be made in May.

Larry said that Scaife had nothing to do with Starr's appointments, which also included deanship of the law school at the Malibu campus. Such involvement would have been "entirely improper," he said.

Scaife received a fax from Pepperdine on Thursday making the announcement that Starr would not be coming, Larry said. Pepperdine faxed the statement the moment Starr began speaking, he said. "It was sent to us because Mr. Scaife is a regent. We had no prior word and no prior discussions. This was a decision of Starr and the university."

Student Reaction in Malibu Is Mixed

Starr originally announced in February 1997 that he planned to leave the next summer to take the Pepperdine posts. But the decision touched off a wave of criticism, especially from conservatives who wanted Starr to remain on the job until he was finished. The prosecutor then reversed field, saying that he had made a mistake and would remain as independent counsel until the work was "substantially completed."

Reaction from students in Malibu was mixed, with many students emphasizing the fame Starr would have brought to Pepperdine.

"I think he could really have contributed positively in enhancing the ranking of the school nationwide," said Joe Farzam, 25, a first-year law student. "Definitely, we regret the fact that he's not going to be the dean here. . . . The ranking of the school affects everyone's career. If the school ranks high, we'll get better jobs."

"I think he's in a no-win situation," said Max Tawari, 31, a student from College Park, Md. "For him to effectively do his job, he's going to have to go against public opinion."

But Tawari said that, even if the public continues to regard Starr as politically motivated, he would have augmented the school's reputation. "I think we could have done well with the exposure," Tawari said.

Kenji Kato, 26, of Oxnard, said that his initial enthusiasm about Starr's appointments at the school diminished over time. "I was excited because of the national recognition he would bring but . . . with every little twist and turn of his investigation it seemed less and less likely he would be here."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|