State hires lawyer, Tom Ingram to help with UT lawsuit

With Gov. Bill Haslam’s approval, the state has hired a private lawyer and veteran political operative Tom Ingram to help the University of Tennessee deal with a lawsuit over alleged mishandling of sexual violence cases, reports the News Sentinel.

The attorney was hired more than seven months before the lawsuit was filed and about two weeks before UT President Joe DiPietro was notified of Title IX complaints sent to the U.S. Department of Education.

Bill Ramsey, a lawyer with the Nashville-based firm Neal & Harwell, was hired as “additional counsel to provide legal services” to the state and university, according to a letter from Gov. Bill Haslam to Ramsey dated June 18.

“They (the university) understood this lawsuit would be coming,” Ramsey said.

He said one reason to hire outside counsel is because UT lawyers are often involved in student discipline cases, so those lawyers might be witnesses for the lawsuit, which alleges discipline cases have been mishandled.

Since Ramsey’s June hiring, the state has paid more than $100,000 to Neal & Harwell. And this month, Ramsey hired Tom Ingram, who was a paid consultant for Haslam until last July and is the founder of Nashville-based public relations and lobbying firm the Ingram Group.

Ramsey will meet with the UT Board of Trustees during a closed session next Thursday before the board’s regularly scheduled meeting the same day at UT-Martin.

…Although Ramsey was hired months before the federal lawsuit was filed in Nashville, his hiring was just weeks before DiPietro was notified on June 29 and again on July 1 that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights would be investigating complaints about the Knoxville campus.

Ramsey said Thursday that his hiring was not related to those complaints and responses to the OCR were handled by UT legal counsel.

Those complaints to the OCR were filed on May 15 and May 18 and allege that UT failed to respond “promptly and adequately” to cases of sexual violence, creating a “hostile environment” for complainants.

…The federal lawsuit against the university alleges that UT violates Title IX laws and has a “hostile sexual environment.” The complaint was filed Feb. 9 in Nashville and amended on Feb. 24 for eight unidentified female plaintiffs. Seven of the women have cases involving student athletes.