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Byrum: Board will not waive privilege, regardless of attorney general's wishes

June 25, 2019
<p>Trustee Dianne Byrum speaks during a press conference at the Hannah Administration Building on June 21, 2019. </p>

Trustee Dianne Byrum speaks during a press conference at the Hannah Administration Building on June 21, 2019.

Photo by Junyao Li | The State News

Trustee Dianne Byrum said the Michigan State University Board of Trustees still stand by their decision to not waive attorney-client privilege and release all documents from previous investigations into the university's handling of Larry Nassar's abuse to the Michigan Attorney General, despite calls from Attorney General Dana Nessel to do so.

"The board had made a determination several months ago that we were not going to waive privilege," Byrum said. "The privilege is extremely important, as we're currently litigating with our insurance carrier. That puts that litigation in jeopardy if we waive privilege."

During a meeting Friday, the board announced the law firm McDermott, Will & Emery will conduct a new, independent investigation into the university's handling of ex-MSU doctor Larry Nassar's sexual abuse. The results are to be made public.

Earlier internal investigations in 2016 and 2017 were not made public, drawing criticism from Special Prosecutor William Forsyth, who wrote in his 2018 report that MSU fostered "a culture of indifference and institutional protection" for the duration and in the immediate aftermath of Nassar's abuse.

The new investigation will be the first to be made public.

"What we're trying to do is to have a public report that basically answers the question — 'what happened?'" Byrum said.

Byrum said, while not all documents from earlier investigations will be provided in either investigation, the board had a sitting judge look over all earlier documents to make determinations as to whether they were indeed protected by attorney-client privilege.

Those which were determined to not be privileged were released to the attorney general, she said.

Attorney General Dana Nessel issued a strong rebuke Friday to the announcement of MSU's new investigation.

"There is only one way for MSU to regain the public’s trust and that is to waive its privilege and disclose all information in its possession about Larry Nassar to the Department of Attorney General," Nessel said in a statement. "In other words, the University should leave the job of investigating to the professionals.”

Byrum said McDermott, Will & Emery was selected with the help of Nassar survivors, and will be able to thoroughly investigate the university without focusing on the criminality of its response.

"I have great respect for the attorney general and her attempts to do the investigation," Byrum said. "She is really investigating the civil and criminal liability there."

Former university President Lou Anna K. Simon faces four counts of lying to peace officers about her knowledge of Nassar's abuse, while former College of Osteopathic Medicine Dean William Strampel was convicted earlier this month on counts of willful neglect of duty and misconduct in office in relation to his handling of Nassar.

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