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Former UNC BOG Chair Smith files defamation suit against Raleigh CEO

Greenville private-equity investor Harry Smith, a former chairman of the UNC System Board of Governors, says he was defamed and suffered financial and reputational damages because of comments by Raleigh investment company owner Fielding Miller, according to a lawsuit filed last week in Wake County Superior Court.

Smith’s lawsuit seeks compensatory damages of at least $25,000 plus punitive damages to be determined at a jury trial.

Miller is CEO of CapTrust Investment Advisors, a growing financial services company that has about 800 employees in 49 offices. Its advisors managed $50 billion in assets and advised on another $409 billion as of last September. He’s been a trustee at East Carolina University in Greenville since 2017.

Smith is founder of the Rise Capital private equity company and a former CEO of a publicly traded air-filter company.

The dispute centers on conflict between Smith, who served on the Board of Governors from 2013 through early last year, and former ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton, who led the university from 2016-18. Smith was critical of Staton’s decisions while chancellor and the hiring process that led him to Greenville.

Last June, Staton filed a defamation lawsuit against UNC, Smith and attorney Peter Romary. The lawsuit contends Smith worked to make Staton’s life difficult during his tenure in  Greenville after the chancellor opposed Smith over a possible student housing project. Smith filed a counter-suit and the case is pending.

According to Smith’s new lawsuit, Miller criticized Smith and defended Staton in Facebook posts while also assisting Staton’s lawsuit. “False and disparaging comments by one manager of millions of dollars of assets in Eastern North Carolina (Miller) about the honesty, competence and integrity of another business and philanthropic leader and manager of millions of dollars of assets in Eastern North Carolina (Smith) is conduct in or effecting commerce,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed by Mark Finkelstein, a lawyer at the Fox Rothschild firm in Raleigh.

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