Kenneth Starr left a legacy at Pepperdine

Kenneth Starr, the former dean of Pepperdine University’s School of Law, passed away Sept. 13, at the age of 76. He died at a Baylor Hospital in Houston after complications from surgery and a lengthy illness.

A conservative star of the legal world, Starr served as dean of the school from 2004 to 2010. Upon his arrival in Malibu, Pepperdine Law ranked 99th in the nation. But by the time Starr left, the school had risen to 55th in the rankings by U.S. News and World Reports. 

“He’s the one who put Pepperdine on the national stage,” said Paul Caron, current Pepperdine Caruso School of Law dean. 

Former Law School Dean and current Pepperdine President James Gash said, “Starr’s vision for Pepperdine was global … I am profoundly grateful for Ken’s leadership, mentorship, counseling, guidance and encouragement.” 

Baylor University President Linda Livingstone, a former dean at Pepperdine’s Graziadio School, said, “Judge Starr was a dedicated public servant and ardent supporter of religious freedom that allows faith-based institutions to flourish.”

Starr is said to have had a profound influence on his students, offering gracious dinner invitations to his Malibu home. A local resident wrote to The Malibu Times, calling Starr “a valued member of Malibu in many ways.”

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Starr grew up the son of a minister in Texas. He sold bibles to help pay for his education. He went on to a distinguished career in governmental law as solicitor general, arguing 25 cases before the Supreme Court. He mentored two Supreme Court justices, John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh, and was briefly in the running for a seat on the court himself.

Starr became a household name when he led the 1994 investigation into Bill and Hillary Clinton’s real estate investments known as Whitewater. That investigation, in which the Clintons were cleared of any wrongdoing relating to Whitewater, continued until 1997 and led to the impeachment of Clinton on perjury charges over his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

After his Pepperdine tenure, Starr served as president of Baylor University in Waco, Texas; however, he was stripped of his presidency and later resigned. An investigation found that under his watch, numerous allegations of sexual harassment and rape by football players were mishandled (two of the players were convicted of rape). Investigators said university leadership “created a perception that football was above the rules.” 

In later years, Starr became known for his 2008 representation of disgraced billionaire Jeffrey Epstein. 

Before Epstein’s 2019 death in a New York jail while awaiting trial on charges of sexual trafficking and abuse of minor girls, Starr helped secure what’s been called a “sweetheart deal” for the convicted sex offender on related Florida state charges. The lawyer helped negotiate a 13-month prison term in which Epstein was allowed to work from his home office 12 hours a day, six days a week. Ten years later that plea deal was declared illegal by a federal judge, leading to Epstein’s re-arrest in 2019 and the Florida judge who approved the deal, Alex Acosta, was forced to resign as Secretary of Labor. 

In a separate 2013 case, Starr wrote a letter of support (one of 90) for another accused child molester, Christopher Kloman, who is now serving a 43-year sentence for the abuse of five girls. For his part in the Epstein defense, Starr stated, “I have always tried to act with integrity and to be guided by the great principles of the American legal system.”

The senior pastor where Starr’s memorial service was held, Jimmy Seibert, said, “The world will remember Ken Starr as a brilliant thinker, leader, and defender of truth and justice. I will remember Ken Starr as a devoted personal friend and a man of sincere and deep faith. Thank you, Ken, for your love of God, your love of family and your love for all of us. You will always be remembered in American history, but you will be specifically remembered in our hearts.” 

His good friend Robert Vagley is quoted in a remembrance, praising “Ken’s absolute decency, his rock solid faith, his love for his wife and children, his loyalty to family and friends, his devotion to our country and Constitution, his belief in the rule of law and an ordered and civil society, his willingness to serve for the greater good without regard for his own plans and wishes, his always sunny disposition, his charity and goodwill to all, his humility and selflessness, his charming and jocular personality, and his Texas-bred and Texas sized strength of character.”

Kenneth Star is shown in a Pepperdine Law sweatshirt during his time on campus. During his time as dean of Pepperdine School of Law, brought the school’s national ranking from 99 when he arrived to 55 when he left. Pepperdine archives.

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