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University of Michigan says it will issue a “non-privileged report” from a new law firm

April 2, 2020 | UMich Sexual Abuse

According to an article published recently by The Detroit Times, The University of Michigan says it will issue a “non-privileged report” from a new law firm it has engaged to investigate claims of sexual abuse regarding the late Dr. Robert E. Anderson. This move has generated considerable push-back from advocates for the late doctor’s accusers.

The investigation will be conducted by the law firm WilmerHale. According to the university, the investigation will be conducted under attorney-client privilege to protect the confidentiality of all sexual misconduct survivors and witnesses. The findings of this investigation will be released to the public and the university simultaneously.

The board chair who recently came forward with his story of abuse by Anderson, Regent Ron Weiser, said during a phone interview that the attorneys working on the investigation are trained investigators. The attorneys will be reporting directly to the regents who work for the public, not administrators who work for the school.

Mr Weiser emphasized that the report that is to be prepared for the public will not include names of those who come forward. Not everyone identified in the report will want to be public about a sexual abuse claim. According to Weiser the report will be released to the public at the same time the regents receive their copy. The board will not see it before the public.

“This is the most transparent report anybody is going to have,” Said Mr Weiser. “No one is going to have any influence over what it says.”

The University of Michigan’s decision stunned the many who are advocating for alleged victims of Anderson. The doctor served as the head of University Health Service and the team physician for the Athletic Department from 1968 until 2003. Dr. Anderson died in 2008.

Former Attorney General Mike Cox, who has filed two dozen lawsuits against the university and Board of Regents said, “The ‘investigation’ will cost UM millions and prove what we already know: that for three decades, UM’s leadership let a known sexual predator prey on its (students).”

Mr Cox asked if WilmerHale will, “really focus on the corrupt leadership” at the University of Michigan that allegedly allowed this to happen. This includes past university presidents who “knew about Anderson’s preying on hundreds of young men for the past year and only reacted when the press broke the story.”

“The focus should be on making the victims as whole as possible, not on self-serving and conflicted investigations that attempt to ‘prove’ that UM really cares about the victims here,” Cox stated.

In a statement, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel said that the university would “provide a safe and secure environment for survivors to share their stories … and continue to provide resources to support the survivors who bravely share their truth.”

Advocates of the nearly 300 alleged victims of Dr Anderson said that they wanted the university to waive its privilege.

University of Michigan recently severed ties with Steptoe and Johnson, the firm initially hired to conduct the Anderson investigation. The dismissal stemmed from the firm’s history, as it had defended two prominent men accused of sexual abuse, the late financier Jeffrey Epstein and film director Roman Polanski.

WilmerHale is the same firm that has been investigating sexual misconduct allegations against former University of Michigan Provost Martin Philbert. Mr Philbert was recently removed from his post.

The firm will also investigate allegations against Dr Anderson. University of Michigan said in a release announcing the decision that it selected the firm to do both investigations because the attorneys with WilmerHale have a deep understanding of relevant university policies and procedures.

“In addition, although each matter is entirely separate and distinct, the matters may present certain common questions about university policies and procedures,” the release said.

WilmerHale partners Aaron Zebley and Danielle Conley, who work out of the firm’s Washington, D.C., office will be overseeing University of Michigan’s investigations.

Serving as the deputy special counsel under Robert Mueller for the duration of the special counsel office’s investigation of Russian government efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election before rejoining WilmerHale in 2019, Zebley is a former federal prosecutor and 18-year FBI agent focused on investigations and national security matters.

Focused on high-stakes investigations and litigation involving the federal government Conley also has an eye on other legal challenges spanning law, government policy and business. Danielle Conely regularly conducts internal investigations involving allegations of sexual misconduct for companies and organizations.

University of Michigan has set up separate hotlines for each investigation: For Anderson, a line that is staffed Monday through Friday, 7 a.m.-5 p.m., 855-336-5900. For Philbert, callers can reach out to a line that is the university’s Compliance Hotline and staffed 24/7, 866-990-0111.

Denise Ilitch, a University of Michigan Regent, said the university is fully committed to allowing WilmerHale to conduct vigorous and independent investigations of the Anderson and Philbert cases.

A letter of engagement between University of Michigan and WilmerHale showed what the investigation will produce.  “We will issue a non-privileged public report about the results of our independent investigation of the matter in a manner that protects the anonymity and privacy of complainants and witnesses,” the letter said. “The university and the firm will endeavor to protect the identity and confidentiality of complainants and witnesses in the matter to the greatest extent permitted by law.”

Dr Anderson’s alleged behavior emerged when Robert Julian Stone, a Palm Springs, California, man shared his story last month with The Detroit News. When he learned others had filed similar claims with the university, and that the University of Michigan had an investigation underway, Stone came forward. He was afraid the allegations against Dr Anderson would be covered up.

A growing number of men have come forward and accused Dr Anderson of sexual assault during medical treatment by retaining and speaking through lawyers. Others have told their allegations through the nearly two dozen lawsuits that have been filed. The university set up a hotline that has garnered more than 100 calls from Dr Anderson’s alleged victims. An updated number of calls received on that line were not immediately available.

Attorney Mick Grewal, who represents more than 100 alleged victims of Dr Anderson said he is cautiously optimistic about the arrangement. Mr. Grewal said that WilmerHale is not  truly independent since it was hired by the university and its allegiance is to the client, the University of Michigan, not the public. He also said an investigation by the Michigan Attorney General’s office would be independent because it is accountable to the public. ”The fear is the investigation is going to turn into what happened at Michigan State,” said Grewal.

While some alleged victims, including those abused by former Michigan State University’s former doctor Nassar, called on the Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office to investigate the University of Michigan, Nessel said she couldn’t so anything unless the university waived privilege.

Those who called on the University of Michigan to waive privilege cited Michigan State University. MSU is withholding 6,000 documents from the attorney general’s investigation of how Dr Nassar was able to sexually assault hundreds of young female athletes under the guise of medicine over more than two decades. Critics of Michigan State University’s claim of attorney-client privilege say it will prevent investigators and the public from ever learning the full truth about Dr Nassar’s crimes and how he was able to commit them for so long.