Given the recent legal problems that have hit the University—the lawsuit against Thomas Kannam, and the Stephen Morgan name mix-up—the University has been in need of a good lawyer. Since 2007, David Winakor has been that man. As the University’s first General Counsel, he is an invaluable asset to school administration and a legal jack-of-all trades.
Although large institutions often have as many as 15 trained lawyers, smaller institutions usually have significantly smaller law departments or look to external law firms for sporadic legal assistance. In response to the mounting costs of outside legal sources, however, Vice President of Finance and Administration, John Meerts, created the Office of the General Counsel. Winakor’s work falls into three main categories: day-to-day tasks, ensuring that the University’s actions are in accordance with the law, and risk management.

Winakor covers a broad range of tasks on campus that were managed by other University offices prior to his arrival. Although the University was one of the first NESCAC schools to establish an Office of General Counsel, Winakor estimates that about half of these universities have hired their own lawyer as well.

Before Winakor was hired, legal assistance and queries were often complicated by limited communication with outside law firms. Winakor’s presence as a strong legal mind has helped streamline the University’s administration. This includes his emphasis on reexamining university organizational policies, and establishing a code of conduct fully known among school employees.

Winakor cited one extremely relevant case exemplary of his role: the University’s conflict of interest policy. While the policy was already in existence, Winakor saw the opportunity to modernize it, and tie it in with the University’s other core policies.

“My effort was to make sure employees were educated about the policy and comfortable with its parameters,” he said. “I have a feeling that if a policy is any more than two pages, those are more pages than anyone would be willing to read, so we boiled it down, simplified it, developed a system.”

Winakor’s system involved the creation of an adjacent “whistleblower” policy, which, alongside the conflict of interest guidelines, is receiving large amounts of publicity in the Thomas Kannam case. In such litigation issues, Winakor works in conjunction with and leads outside litigation assistance.

Acting as a bridge between outside groups and the administration, Winakor provides a deep understanding of the inner workings of the University, thereby driving the whole operation forward.

“Any time there is a high level hiring or firing I’m involved from a risk management perspective,” Winakor said. “In this case, it turned out that there was a lot more to it. After the investigation, the president, the cabinet, the board, and I decided further action was necessary. Now, the lawyers representing us are working for the University, but I’m the contact. I manage the day-to-day.”

He says his first priority as General Counsel is to evade and prevent the type of conflict that garners such attention. Through organization, mediation, avoidance, and resolution, Winakor’s job is to manage disputes so the University can focus on the student body. Winakor likens his role to another Renaissance man occupation.

“I’m the family doctor,” he said, with a smile.

A graduate of the University of Connecticut School of Law, Winakor’s legal career began long before his arrival at Wesleyan. He spent eight years as the Assistant General Counsel and Vice President for Business Development at The Stanley Works, based out of New Britain, Conn. Prior to that, he practiced commercial and corporate law at a Hartford-based private practice. Winakor also served as a commissioned officer in the United States Army during Operation Desert Storm.

However, despite his distinguished career in law, Winakor has fully embraced the dynamic nature of his current position.

“My colleagues who are still in private practice are going to be dealing predominantly with whatever walks through their door,” Winakor said. “However, it will never be as factually dynamic as this place. With the constant turnover of students, I encounter things everyday that never show up on law school exams.”

Winakor expressed the challenges and excitements of his job at the University in a 2008 article in the Wesleyan Connection Alumni Magazine.

“At Wesleyan, working in a liberal arts environment, there is an endless supply of cutting edge issues,” Winakor wrote. “I’ll never be at a loss for unique challenges to explore and respond to.”

  • An Insider’s View

    I’m a friend of Thomas Kannam and quite frankly, he and his wife are sick and tired of being lambasted and stabbed in the back. You can bet that the likes of Ralph Gill are going to be accused of a lot more than sitting on the sidelines. Gill has played a much bigger role in this whole scandal and you’ll be seeing a lot more incriminating emails coming out of the woodworks soon.

  • Ron Medley, `73

    When the book is finally closed on Wesleyan’s “financial decline”, I very much suspect that alumni will arrive at the same conclusion as the late Walt Kelly’s character in Pogo, that, “We have faced the enemy — and it is us.”

    How many whithering comments have there been over the years, in _The Alumnus_ and elsewhere, regarding everything from “preferential admissions” (an early euphemism for affirmative action), to the re-admission of women?

    Now, with the internet, we can revisit old fights from 1960s (and increasinngly, it seems — the 1980s) at will. And, the common, underlyinng threat throughout seems to be that Wesleyan will be held hostage economically if the wrong side is given aid and comfort rhetorically, figuratively or materially.

    Is it any wonder that we perennially lag Amherst and Williams in per cent of alumni participation in fundraising drives?

  • anon

    This whole case is getting more fascinating as time goes on. I have no doubt that all the defendants will start turning on each other very soon.

  • Case Watcher

    The Kannam case could unfold in a manner similar to the Galleon case, which has been making headlines for the last couple of months.

    The lead defendant in that case, Raj Rajaratnam, created a network of friends and associates to allegedly illegally help him with his hedge fund business.

    Here’s the potential parallel to the Kannam case. When Department of Justice indictments for the Galleon case were announced, Rajaratnam and all his co-conspirators were perp walked in front of the cameras. Rajaratnam professed his innocence and pled not guilty. And then one by one his co-conspirators flipped, pled guilty, and threw Rajaratnam under the bus .

    We’ll see if Kannam’s co-defendants do the same to him. In fact some of them may in fact want this thing to go to trial so that they can prove their innocence, if in fact they are innocent. At this point, an out of court settlement with Kannam does nothing to restore their reputations if they were duped by Kannam and are innocent. They need it in the public record that they are innocent.

  • Unofficial Theme Song

    Bad boys, bad boys whatcha gonna do?
    Whatcha gonna do when Winakor comes for you?
    Bad boys, bad boys whatcha gonna do?
    Whatcha gonna do when Winakor comes for you?

    When you were eight and you had bad traits
    You go to school and learn the golden rule
    So why are you acting like a bloody fool?
    Now that you’re caught, the law gonna rule!

  • Simon Says….

    When a plaintiff lists 20 defendants, it is a sure thing that 19 of the 20 will throw the lead dog under the sled.

  • Confucius

    And Confucius said to Thomas, “To know your faults and be able to change is the greatest virtue.”

  • Tsunamian

    When a wall of water 100ft high is approaching, do you stand and face it, or do you retreat and seek higher ground?

  • Testicles

    When the truthsayers have your balls in a vice, do you maintain your false innocence, or do you cry ‘uncle’ and admit your mistakes?

  • Ahab

    Trust me, riding the great leviathan into the depths was not a wise decision.

  • The horror… the horror…

    Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.

  • le mot

    david lott = the online martin benjamin

    get over college, folks. stop expending energy on your fallen college newspaper, and stop trying to rekindle the ashes of your glory days.

    do something bigger and more effective with the life you have left.

  • Lott Supporter

    Lay off Lott. He has every write to comment. While I don’t agree with most of what he says, he does keep the debate active.

  • Cousin Vinnie

    How do I get to Middletown??

  • Accurate?

    Well, it is true the Wesleyan needs a good lawyer…..