An affidavit circulated earlier this month counters a central claim in a lawsuit filed by former ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton, but the document has yet to be filed in conjunction with the case. Staton, however, has amended his suit to include the names of individual members of the Board of Governors.
The amended lawsuit was filed in Orange County Civil Superior Court on June 26, one day after a former ECU professor reportedly prepared an affidavit saying she, and not individuals named in the lawsuit, wrote a dossier that Staton said prevented him from working at another university.
Staton, who served as East Carolina University’s chancellor from July 2016 to May 2019, originally alleged that former UNC Board of Governors chairman Harry Smith, attorney Peter Romary and Romary’s company Qverity, defamed him by creating and distributing a “dossier” that prevented him from getting a job at a Texas university.
He also claims that Smith and the University of North Carolina system violated a non-disparagement provision of his separation agreement.
In the revised suit, Staton states that Romary and his company, QVerity, compiled information on Staton and gave it to Smith. He also claims that “Smith, Romary and/or one or more of the other defendant Governors were responsible for other communications to institutions of higher education to which plaintiff has applied.”
The new filing also contains amended claims for relief for breach of contract, defamation, interference with contract and business relations, unfair or detective practices and violation of the North Carolina Resource Act.
The “other defendant Governors” are past members of the UNC Board of Governors, Thomas H. Fetzer and Robert Anthony Rucho, and current board members Randall Clark Ramsey, Wendy Floyd Murphy, James L. Holmes Jr., Thomas C. Goolsby, W. Marty Kotis III Michael Williford, J. Alexander Mitchell and David M. Powers.
The information Romary and QVerity reportedly compiled was a document called “the dossier.”
The anonymous document was widely circulated during Staton’s tenure at ECU. The Daily Reflector was among media outlets that received copies. The newspaper did not publish a story about the document.
It raised questions about Staton’s qualifications for leading ECU. It claimed he exaggerated his experience in higher education and had been engaged in previous acts of “questionable ethical integrity.”
Staton said the dossier along with another document called “the memorandum” were given to members of the Steven F. Austin State University presidential search committee and resulted in them asking him to withdraw his application for the position.
Smith has previously said he had no knowledge of the dossier and its creation.
In mid-July, a document began circulating that is reportedly the affidavit of Tracey L. Tuten, who was a marketing professor at ECU from 2009-2018. The affidavit was provided to The Daily Reflector anonymously on July 17.
In the document, Tuten takes credit for the dossier: “I am the author of the Dossier. I wrote in in its entirety, based on publicly available information, in October 2017. No one else participated in the writing of the Dossier. I did not write the Memorandum or have any role in its preparation.”
The affidavit has a notary stamp and the signature of Kelli R. Lozano of Beaufort County, who the N.C. Secretary of State’s office confirmed is a registered notary. However, it has not been filed in Orange County Superior Court for inclusion in Staton’s suit, a deputy clerk of court said Wednesday.
Tuten did not return several voicemails seeking comment. Her LinkedIn page indicates she is listed as a principal consultant with Brandacity, a marketing strategy and research provider business, and an affiliate faculty member with William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan.
It’s been a well-known fact at ECU and the greater Greenville community that Tuten authored the dossier, Smith said in a telephone interview Thursday.
“The biggest part of this lawsuit was the dossier and I’m telling you it was well-known that Tracy did it. Cecil Staton and his attorney have an obligation to vet the facts before filing a lawsuit. They have an obligation,” Smith said.
Smith said if Staton and his attorney had given him and others named in the lawsuit a chance to address the claims, a lawsuit would have never been filed because the allegations are false.
Smith said he has not been served a copy of the lawsuit even though the original document was filed in mid-June.
“There’s no question that I and others have been targeted for some period of time, and I think it’s become glaringly obvious for everyone. It’s been going on for years and this takes the cake. It doesn’t help the institution (ECU),” he said.