University of Michigan hires new law firm in abuse inquiry
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — The University of Michigan has hired a new law firm to lead the investigation into allegations a deceased doctor molested hundreds of people.
Meanwhile, attorneys for some of the men accusing the late Dr. Robert E. Anderson of sexual abuse say they are continuing to communicate with current and prospective clients in regards to their in- and out-of-court disputes with the university.
The school said Tuesday that WilmerHale has replaced Steptoe & Johnson, which it cut ties with two weeks ago after learning some of the firm’s attorneys represented high-profile clients accused of sexual misconduct.
WilmerHale is also handling Michigan’s investigation into sexual misconduct allegations made against Martin Philbert. He lost his job as chief academic officer, but is still on the school’s payroll as a faculty member with tenure protection while the investigation continues.
“The university is fully committed to allowing WilmerHale to conduct vigorous and independent investigations in both matters,” regent Denise Ilitch said in the school’s statement. “The engagement letter with WilmerHale specifies that the firm will “issue a non-privileged report” at the conclusion of the investigations.”
The university announced more than a month ago that it was investigating allegations of abuse against Anderson, and it offered counseling to anyone affected by the alleged misconduct.
WilmerHale will conduct its investigations with attorney-client privilege to protect the confidentiality of all sexual misconduct survivors and witnesses, the school said.
That stance did not sit well with attorneys for Anderson’s accusers, who want the school to accept state Attorney General Dana Nessel’s offer to investigate the matter. She said her office will only do so, though, f the school waives all privilege and hands over any document or information requested.
“The only attorney-client privilege which exists is between the University of Michigan and the law firm they hired, WilmerHale,” said Denver-based attorney Parker Stinar, who is trying to reach an out-of-court resolution with the school on behalf of more than 70 clients. “Once again, the University of Michigan is denying students, alumni and the public with transparency.”
Numerous men have come forward publicly and anonymously as John Does in lawsuits to allege that Anderson molested them during medical exams. Anderson had a decades-long career as a physician for Michigan’s athletic teams and at the university’s health service. He died in 2008.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said 166 unique complaints, as of Monday, had been received by a hotline to report complaints regarding Anderson.
The revelations at Michigan echo other high-profile allegations and investigations of sexual abuse made by patients of sports doctors at other universities, including Michigan State,Ohio State and Minnesota.
The University of Michigan Board of Regents will have a virtual meeting on Thursday, following the state’s directive to maintain social distancing due to coronavirus.
The pandemic, however, has not stopped Michigan-based attorney Mike Cox from filing lawsuits against the school on behalf of 25 men listed as John Does.
“We are not able to have personal meetings, but folks keep calling,” said Cox, a former state attorney general. “We are filing lawsuits, which can be done electronically, as our clients approve them. As you know, some are clients but were leery of filing, because they are “Michigan Men,” but that is changing.”
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