A federal judge blistered the University of Michigan for refusing to send President Mark Schlissel or a law firm doing a independent investigation to a status conference in her courtroom. She gave U-M and attorneys for victims of former university doctor Robert Anderson 10 days to figure out how the independent investigation will work with ongoing lawsuits.
U.S. District Court Judge Victoria Roberts said she wants to know exactly how the investigation being run by law firm WilmerHale is interacting with the university’s defense in a series of lawsuits. She defended her request to have Schlissel come in to answer questions about it.
“Who else would I call … other than President Schlissel?” Roberts, a judge in the Eastern District of Michigan, said in a hearing Friday morning. “I do have the authority (to ask Schlissel) to come in to my court.”
U-M has said it is interested in settling with Anderson’s victims but had been pushing for that settlement to occur outside of the federal court system.
The university said after the hearing it would work with the court.
“At Friday’s hearing, the court asked the parties to work together to make sure guardrails are in place to ensure the independence of WilmerHale’s investigation into Robert Anderson’s misconduct,” said U-M spokesman Rick Fitzgerald. “We will carefully consider the discussion from today’s hearing and work with the mediator to identify a mutually agreeable path forward in this matter.
“The university has confidence in the integrity of WilmerHale’s investigation and hopes that the parties can swiftly reach an agreement that will allow that important work to resume.”
The university announced earlier this year that it was investigating allegations of abuse by Anderson, who died in 2008. Numerous men have come forward publicly and in lawsuits to allege that Anderson molested them during medical exams during his decades-long career as a physician for the school’s athletic teams and at the university’s health service.
Last month, Roberts asked U-M’s attorneys in the lawsuit – the firm Jones Day – to have Schlissel attend the next status hearing to clarify the relationship between U-M’s announced independent investigation and its defense in lawsuit. Instead of doing so, U-M filed a motion telling Roberts she didn’t have the legal authority to mandate Schlissel’s appearance.
Roberts said in her 23 years on the bench, she’s never had that happen.
U-M cited an appeals court decision from last year
that overturned a different judge’s order to have Schlissel come into his court for a case.
Roberts says the previous ruling by the appeals court overturning a court ordering Schlissel to appear was about a settlement conference. This is different, she said. “This is a simple … status conference.”
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Roberts said she shares concerns about the investigation U-M’s Board of Regents started into Anderson separate from any court proceedings. She is concerned the “independent investigation” will allow U-M to do discovery that will help in litigation defense outside of the court process.
Victim attorney Powell Miller said WilmerHale was talking to people and “didn’t even do the base level of telling people there was a potential class action lawsuit” they would be a part of. He added the investigation should be done in the “light, not in the shadows.”
She also repeatedly questioned the independence of WilmerHale.
“The independence of WilmerHale is questionable. It is hired by the regents. It is reporting to the general counsel of the university. It is claiming an attorney client privilege with the university.”
Roberts also questioned attorney Stephen Cowen of Jones Day about it.
“Is it your sense that it is truly an independent investigation?” she asked.
“From us – yes,” Cowen replied.
“But not independent from the university or board of regents,” Roberts conti…