Lawyer: U-M's new Anderson claims process is a way to 'avoid public and court scrutiny'
The University of Michigan will set up a process outside of the court system for victims of former football team doctor Robert Anderson to settle abuse claims, the school announced Tuesday.
In announcing the move, the school said it was setting up the process to "provide 'more certain, faster relief' while also helping to maintain the privacy of those who have come forward."
Details of how the process will work were not released. School spokesman Rick Fitzgerald told the Free Press no monetary amount has been set aside to settle the claims.
“We want to bring closure for those who have so bravely come forward to share their experiences," U-M President Mark Schlissel said in a statement. "The university recognizes the harms he caused and is committed to developing a fair, just, timely, and efficient resolution process — one that does not require drawn-out litigation.”
But some are seeing the announcement differently.
"U-M claims it will 'develop a process outside the court system,' yet there is already a process in place, one created by the U.S. and Michigan constitutions: the U.S. federal court and the Washtenaw Circuit Court, where 46 Michigan men have already been seeking to be made whole from Dr. Anderson’s and U-M’s abuse," said attorney Michael Cox, who represents Anderson victims who have filed suit.
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. The university hired an outside firm, WilmerHale, to do the investigation.
"It is these survivors’ court claims which U-M must address and answer this week (according to legal deadlines) that are now driving U-M to do what it is trying to do: avoid public and court scrutiny for what it did to these survivors when they were athletes, and more recently when U-M tried covering up the horrific acts of Anderson for 19 months," Cox said.
"It is only in a courtroom where the survivors (and the public) can learn the truth. It is in a courtroom, where survivors can compel witnesses through subpoenas to tell the full truth of Anderson’s abuse and U-M’s cover-up of that abuse."
Cox continued: "These 48 survivors had to go to the courts after meeting with U-M’s lawyers who did nothing to address the survivors’ claims except set up a fake helpline and try to further stall addressing the survivors’ claims. In the survivors’ public filings, they have shared with the public some of Anderson’s horrific abuses — as well as the callous and wanton indifference and betrayal by many coaches and trainers to survivors’ complaints about Anderson, which only worsened the trauma. And, as court filings have shown, just last month, U-M threatened to try to dismiss these righteous claims unless the survivors would indefinitely put off their claims. We will continue to seek relief in the courts until U-M stops playing PR games and decides to do the right thing."
The university is devoted to transparency, U-M spokesman Fitzgerald said.
"Long ago the university committed to making the independent investigation report available to the public at the same time as it is received by the university. The university is completely committed to public disclosure.
Other attorneys had a different view.
"My goal has always been to hold the university accountable without resorting to public lawsuits, and to maintain my clients’ confidentiality," said Parker Stinar, who represents several Anderson victims, but hasn't filed any suits. "We have reached the point where the university has no choice but to accept responsibility. The big question now is how much. The university claims to be the “leaders and the best," but will they compensate their victims like those of Penn State and Jerry Sandusky?"
Recent history says any settlement with Anderson's victims could get pricey — Michigan State University paid $500 million to Larry Nassar survivors, the University of Southern California paid $215 million to George Tyndall survivors and Penn State University paid $109 million to Jerry Sandusky survivors. Ohio State University recently reached settlement terms with about half of the Richard Strauss survivors, but terms were not released. Nassar, Tyndall, Strauss and Anderson were all doctors who were accused of sexually assaulting students, including athletes.
The university is doing this process “to provide more certain and faster relief for the former patients of Anderson outside of the court system while preserving their privacy to the greatest extent possible,” said U-M board chairman Ron Weiser, who has disclosed publicly that he was abused by Anderson in the 1960s while a student on the U-M campus.
The university has established a dedicated call center for the investigation at 855-336-5900. The call center is staffed 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Individuals also may contact WilmerHale directly at 877-428-9667 or UofM@wilmerhale.com.
The university also is offering free, confidential counseling to individuals affected by Anderson’s conduct through Praesidium. Individuals may contact Praesidium at 888-961-9273 to learn more about how to access confidential counseling resources in their local area.
Contact David Jesse: 313-222-8851 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @reporterdavidj