Monday, October 25, 2021

Michigan State BOT to maintain privilege, withold 6000 Nassar documents

March 26, 2021
<p>The Hannah Administration Building at sunset Dec. 7, 2019.</p>

The Hannah Administration Building at sunset Dec. 7, 2019.

Photo by Lauren DeMay | The State News

The Michigan State University Board of Trustees will not be releasing some 6,000 documents regarding the investigation of the university's handling of Larry Nassar's decades of sexual abuse, according to an email from Board Chair Dianne Byrum.

Following Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s request for a response from the board by March 26, the board has decided to maintain attorney client privilege. Without the release of the documents, the Attorney General’s will close their investigation and remain inconclusive.

"While I understand that the Department will now be closing its investigation, please know that the Department’s dedication is much appreciated," Vice President of Legal Affairs and General Counsel Brain Quinn said in a letter to Nessel's office.

In a Feb. 24 letter directed to Chair Dianne Byrum, Nessel notified the board that Michigan State had until March 26 to release the documents, and if MSU did not comply with the request to waive its assertion of privilege on the documents, the investigation into MSU would end without a proper conclusion.

The move prompted Nessel to announce Friday the investigation was forced to be closed.

"We have used every legal mechanism available to us – including going to court - to secure the remaining documents needed for our investigation. The University’s refusal to voluntarily provide them closes the last door available to finish our investigation. We’re incredibly disappointed that our work will end this way, especially for the Survivors. We can only emphasize again that justice doesn’t begin and end at the courthouse doors. Principles of truth, fairness, and equity should be lights that guide all of our public institutions, especially our schools; and, when our universities refuse to lead, they miss the most important way they can teach," Nessel said in a statement. 

The investigation began in 2016 under Nessel’s predecessor, Bill Schuette.

Although the Trustees asked for the investigation, they did not consent to release the documents even then, the letter said. 

The attorney general’s office explored every legal avenue to obtain the documents but were not able to access the documents without permission of the board. 

Michigan State has reiterated that the documents contain information that investigators and the public already know. 

"As you know, MSU has been the subject of many governmental inquiries and investigations related to relationship violence and sexual misconduct," Byrum said. "We have provided those agencies and the Department of Attorney General the requested facts. Further, in 2019, as part of a legal proceeding, Judge Richard Ball reviewed the documents in question and ruled that the university appropriately maintained attorney-client privilege."

Trustee Renee Knake, the first trustee to conclude reading the documents, announced she finished reading the documents at the board’s December meeting and found no new findings.

Knake was appointed to the Board of Trustees in December 2019 following the resignation of former Trustee Nancy Schlichting, who resigned due to the university’s handling of the investigation and the failure to move forward with an independent investigation. 

The Michigan Legislature sent a letter Thursday morning to the board “strongly urging” them to waive its privilege on the remaining documents.

Forty-seven representatives in the House and Senate signed the letter, adding to the public pressure on MSU to cooperate with Nessel's request. 

Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Township) and Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. (D-East Lansing) introduced the letter with bipartisan and bicameral support in the Legislature, according to a press release provided by the Michigan House of Representatives.

On Tuesday, the East Lansing City Council passed a resolution honoring “Sister Survivors” of sexual abuse, calling on Michigan State to release the documents to the attorney general and the public. 

The City Council cannot compel MSU to comply with the attorney general’s request but adds to the mounting public pressure on the university to cooperate with the investigation. 

ReclaimMSU, an alliance of students, faculty and alumni demanding transparency and accountability from Michigan State, penned an open letter to the Board of Trustees that as of March 25, has over 477 signatures in support of asking MSU to reconsider its decision not to waive its privilege. 

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