Kenneth Winston Starr (born July 21, 1946) is an American lawyer and former judge who was appointed to the Office of the Independent Counsel to investigate the suicide death of the deputy White House counsel Vince Foster and the Whitewater land transactions by President Bill Clinton. He later submitted to Congress the Starr Report, which led to Clinton's impeachment on charges arising from the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He currently serves as dean of Pepperdine University School of Law in Malibu, California.
Kenneth Starr was born in Lockett, a small town near Vernon
, the seat of Wilbarger County
in north Texas
. His father was a Church of Christ minister
He first attended Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, where he belonged to the Young Democrats and wrote in support of Vietnam protesters, but transferred to George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where he received his bachelor of arts degree in 1968. During his time at The George Washington University, Starr was a member of Delta Phi Epsilon , a Professional Foreign Service Fraternity. Starr worked for the Southwestern Company. He later attended Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, (M.A, 1969) and Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, (J.D., 1973). Starr did not go to Vietnam, classified 4-F, due to a case of psoriasis.
After his graduation from Duke, he became a clerk for 5th Federal Circuit Court Judge David W. Dyer (1973-1974), then for Chief Justice Warren Burger
He joined the staff of the Los Angeles-based law firm Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher in 1977, working out of their Washington office. He was appointed counselor to U.S. Attorney General William French Smith in 1981.
Pre-Independent Counsel activities
Prior to his appointment as Independent Counsel, Starr was appointed to be a federal judge
on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals
by President Ronald Reagan
and served from 1983 to 1989. He was United States Solicitor General
from 1989 to 1993 under President George H. W. Bush
. When the Senate Ethics Committee needed someone to review Republican Senator Bob Packwood
's diaries, the committee chose Starr, and Starr was praised by Republicans and Democrats alike for his fairness and decency. In 1990, Starr was the leading candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court
nomination after William Brennan
's retirement. He encountered a strong resistance from the Department of Justice
leadership which feared that Starr might not be reliably conservative as a Supreme Court justice. President George H. W. Bush nominated David Souter
instead of Starr.
Starr also considered running for the United States Senate from Virginia in 1994 against incumbent Chuck Robb
, but opted against opposing Oliver North
for the Republican nomination.
Time as Independent Counsel
In August 1994 Starr was appointed by a three-judge panel to continue the Whitewater investigation
, replacing Robert B. Fiske
, who had been appointed by the Attorney General prior to the reenactment of the Independent Counsel
law. The law conferred broad investigative powers on Starr and the other independent counsels named to investigate the administration, including the right to subpoena
nearly anyone who might have relevant information. Starr would later receive authority to conduct additional investigations, including the firing of White House Travel
Office personnel, potential political abuse of confidential FBI files
, , Madison Guaranty
, Rose Law Firm
, Paula Jones
and, most notoriously, possible perjury
and obstruction of justice to cover up President Clinton's sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky
The Special Division, the three-judge panel that named Starr, was led by Judge David Sentelle, an appointee of President Reagan and a protege of Senator Jesse Helms. On July 14, 1994, Helms, fellow Republican senator Lauch Faircloth, and Sentelle met for lunch in the Senate cafeteria. All three initially denied having discussed the upcoming independent counsel appointment, though later Sentelle admitted that it "may" have come up in conversation. Sentelle also acknowledged that he was looking for a Republican "who had been active on the other side of the political fence" to head the new investigation, in keeping with the tradition of such independent counsels as Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski (then known as special prosecutors). One of the other judges on the panel was a Democratic appointee to the bench; he registered no dissent over Starr's appointment.
On August 5, Starr was named independent counsel. The Special Division's written statement emphasized that the judges found no fault with the investigation up to that point by Robert Fiske, a moderate Republican appointed by Attorney General Janet Reno, but the newly reenacted law, signed by President Clinton, said that Independent Counsels must be chosen by the three-judge panel and not by the administration under investigation. Although Starr and other independent counsels were later criticized as unaccountable and unstoppable, the statute gave the Attorney General and the Special Division the authority to remove an independent counsel, and the Special Division used it in at least one instance.
Starr took the job part-time and remained active with his law firm, Kirkland & Ellis. This too had been the norm with previous independent counsels, and the statute expressly permitted it. As time went on, however, Starr was increasingly criticized for alleged conflicts of interest stemming from the connection. Kirkland, like other major law firms, represents clients in litigation with the government, including tobacco companies and auto manufacturers. The firm itself at the time was being sued by the Resolution Trust Company, a government agency tangentially involved in the Whitewater matter, and Starr had on one occasion talked with lawyers for Paula Jones, who was suing President Clinton over an alleged sexual assault. Starr told the lawyers why he believed that presidents are not immune to civil suit. When this constitutional issue ultimately reached the Supreme Court, the justices unanimously agreed.
Lewinsky scandal - Paula Jones lawsuit
In his deposition for the Paula Jones
lawsuit, Clinton denied having "sexual relations" with Monica Lewinsky
. Based on the evidence provided by Linda Tripp
, a blue dress with Clinton's semen, Kenneth Starr concluded that this sworn testimony was false and perjurious.
During the deposition in the Jones case, Clinton was asked "Have you ever had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, as that term is defined in Deposition Exhibit 1, as modified by the Court." The definition included contact with the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of a person with an intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of that person, any contact of the genitals or anus of another person, or contact of one's genitals or anus and any part of another person's body either directly or through clothing. The judge ordered that Clinton be given an opportunity to review the agreed definition. Clinton flatly denied having sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky. Later, at the Starr Grand Jury, Clinton stated that he believed the definition of sexual relations agreed upon for the Jones deposition excluded his receiving oral sex.
Starr's investigation eventually led to the impeachment of President Clinton, with whom Starr shared Time's Man of the Year designation for 1998. Despite his impeachment, the President was acquitted in the subsequent trial before the United States Senate and was not removed from office.
On October 10, 1997, Starr's Report on the death of deputy White House counsel, Vince Foster
, drafted largely by Starr's deputy Brett Kavanaugh
was released to the public by the Special Division. The report agrees with the findings of previous independent counsel Robert Fiske
that Foster indeed committed suicide at Fort Marcy Park
, and that his suicide was caused primarily by undiagnosed and untreated depression. As CNN explained on February 28, 1997, "The [Starr] report refutes claims by conservative political organizations that Foster was the victim of a murder plot and coverup," but "despite those findings, right-wing political groups have continued to allege that there was more to the death and that the president and first lady tried to cover it up. CNN also noted that organizations pushing the murder theory included the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
, owned by billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife
, and Accuracy in Media
, supported in part by Scaife's foundation. Scaife's reporter on the Whitewater matter, Christopher Ruddy
, was a frequent critic of Starr's handling of the case.
Though his judicial reputation earned him some note for three and a half years after his appointment, particularly after his aggressive emphasis on engaging political issues in Arkansas — culminating in the fraud prosecution of then-sitting Arkansas Governor Jim Guy Tucker
and Clinton real estate investment partners James and Susan McDougal
— Starr was accused of doing the bidding of Richard Mellon Scaife
, who had funded a position at Pepperdine University
that Starr first accepted but later relinquished. In 2004, he became the Dean of Pepperdine Law School. Rumors began spreading that members of Starr's staff were gay, and Doug Ireland alleged in The Nation
that White House aide Sidney Blumenthal
was spreading them. Susan McDougal, in the book and film documentary The Hunting of the President,
alleges that Starr's office pressured her to lie under oath in order to back up its allegations against Clinton.
Most importantly, the now-defunct monthly magazine Brill's Content accused Starr's office of leaking grand jury testimony in violation of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, based in part on editor Stephen Brill's interview with Starr himself. Acting on motions of Clinton defense attorneys, in July 1998, US District Court Judge Norma Holloway Johnson ordered an investigation into whether Starr's office had improperly leaked grand jury information. She further authorized President Clinton's lawyers to conduct the investigation by subpoenaing and questioning Starr and members of his staff under oath. The federal appeals court in Washington reversed Judge Johnson's decision and said that any investigation would have to be conducted by a court-appointed Special Master, not by President Clinton's lawyers.
Throughout the leak controversy, Starr's office maintained that the information alleged to have been leaked was not uniquely available to it, but was also possessed by Clinton's lawyers, who monitored the grand jury through witnesses' lawyers participation in a joint defense arrangement, and who may have strategically leaked it in order to neutralize the damage and at the same time to blame Starr. After an investigation, a Special Master concluded that no evidence indicated that Starr's office had unlawfully leaked grand jury information. During the leak investigation, however, Charles Bakaly, spokesman for Starr's office, resigned on March 11, 1999. He was later charged with having signed a false affidavit, but acquitted at trial on October 6, 2000. Critics such as Joe Conason and Gene Lyons maintain that the Starr office systematically leaked grand jury information to the press.
Starr expressed regret for ever having asked the Justice Department
to oversee the Lewinsky investigation, saying "the most fundamental thing that could have been done differently" would have been for somebody else to have investigated the matter.
Post-Independent Counsel activities
After five years as independent counsel, Starr resigned and returned to private practice as an appellate lawyer and a visiting professor at New York University and the George Mason University School of Law
. Starr worked as a partner at Kirkland & Ellis
, specializing in litigation. He was one of the lead attorneys in a class-action lawsuit filed by a coalition of liberal and conservative groups (including the ACLU
and the NRA
) against the regulations created by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act
of 2002, known informally as McCain
Act. In the case, Starr argued that the law is an unconstitutional abridgement of free speech.
On April 6, 2004, he was appointed dean of Pepperdine University's School of Law. He originally accepted another Pepperdine post in 1996; however, he withdrew from the appointment in 1998, several months after the Lewinsky controversy erupted. Critics charged that there was a conflict of interest due to substantial donations to Pepperdine from billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, a Clinton critic who funded many media outlets attacking the president. (Scaife's money, however, supported the Foster-was-murdered theory, according to CNN, and Scaife defunded The American Spectator after it endorsed Starr's conclusion of suicide and mocked a Scaife-aided book.) In 2004, some five years after President Clinton's impeachment, Starr was again offered a Pepperdine position and this time accepted it.
Death penalty cases
In 2005, Starr worked to overturn the death sentence
of Robin Lovitt
, who was on Virginia
's Death Row
a man during a robbery
in 1998. Starr provided his services to Lovitt pro bono.
On October 3
, the Supreme Court denied certiorari
. (Lovitt was granted clemency and had his sentence commuted to life in prison without parole, on November 29
, by Governor Mark Warner
On January 26, 2006, the defense team of convicted murderer Michael Morales (which included Starr) sent letters to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger requesting clemency for Morales . Letters purportedly from the jurors who determined Morales's death sentence were included in the package sent to Schwarzenegger.
Ken Starr announced that he will challenge the portion of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act
which gives authority to the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB).
Morse v. Frederick
On May 4
, Starr announced that he would represent the Juneau, Alaska
school board in its appeal to the United States Supreme Court
in a case brought by a former student, Joseph Frederick. The former student unfurled a banner at a school sponsored event saying "Bong Hits 4 Jesus
" as the Olympic torch
was passing through Juneau, prior to arriving in Salt Lake City, Utah
for the 2002 Winter Olympics
. The board decided to suspend the student. The student then sued and won at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
, which stated that the board violated the student's first amendment
right to free speech
. On August 28
, Starr filed a writ of certiorari
for a hearing with the Supreme Court. On June 21
, in an opinion authored by Chief Justice John Roberts
, the Court ruled in favor of Starr's client, finding that "a principal may, restrict student speech at a school event, when that speech is reasonably viewed as promoting illegal drug use.
Blackwater Security Consulting v. Nordan (No. 06-857)
Starr continues to represent Blackwater
in a case involving the deaths of four contractors killed in Fallujah, Iraq in March 2004.
- First Among Equals: The Supreme Court in American Life, Kenneth W. Starr, Grand Central Publishing, October 2003, (ISBN 0446691305)
- Clinton, Bill (2005). My Life. Vintage. ISBN 1-4000-3003-X.
- Conason, Joe and Lyons, Gene (2000). The Hunting of the President. Thomas Dunne Books. ISBN 0-312-27319-3.
- Greenburg, Jan Crawford (2006). Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court. Penguin Books, ISBN 978-1-59420-101-0.
- Schmidt, Susan and Weisskopf, Michael (2000). Truth at Any Cost: Ken Starr and the Unmaking of Bill Clinton. HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0-06-019485-5.