Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Attorney general renews call for release of MSU board's Nassar documents

April 15, 2023
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel speaks out to the crowd at the Democratic GOTV Grand Finale Rally at MSU's Auditorium Field on Nov. 7, 2022.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel speaks out to the crowd at the Democratic GOTV Grand Finale Rally at MSU's Auditorium Field on Nov. 7, 2022.

Following a change in board leadership and public pressure at a recent meeting, a letter from Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel renews her demand for the release of thousands of documents relating to Michigan State University’s handling of disgraced ex-MSU doctor Larry Nassar.

The documents have long been withheld by the university’s Board of Trustees.

In March 2021, under the leadership of then-chair Dianne Byrum, the board privately agreed not to release the documents until related legal disagreements with the university’s insurers were resolved. At the time, MSU was suing 12 insurance companies which argued they didn’t have to pay into the over $500 million in settlements to survivors of Nassar’s abuse.

Today, the legal battles with all but one of those insurers are resolved. If a settlement isn’t reached, MSU and that insurer will resolve the dispute in a jury trial beginning on Oct. 30.

The board’s refusal to provide Nessel with the documents ended her investigation into “exactly how and why the University failed to protect these students from (Nassar).” But, with new members and a new chair, Nessel hopes the decision could be reconsidered.

“This is a pursuit we are determined to see through until the standards of investigation and justice are met,” Nessel said in a statement. “They haven’t been yet, not by the University that continues to withhold thousands of documents my department has requested over and again.”

The documents include records of internal complaints and investigations, personnel files of those who worked with and above Nassar and any texts or emails relating to Nassar to or from 20 MSU employees and leaders — including current trustee Byrum and board vice chair Dan Kelly.

The letter demands the documents be released "complete and unredacted, to be used solely in the Attorney General’s investigation of the Nassar matter" by April 28. It also says with the potential reopening of the investigation, this could be the “first of what we anticipate could be additional requests for information” relating to MSU’s handling of Nassar.

Nassar is currently serving an effective life sentence for numerous county charges of assaulting young women and girls and federal child pornography charges.

Current board chair Rema Vassar did not return calls seeking comment at time of publication. In a recent interview with WKAR before the attorney general’s renewal, Vassar said the documents’ release is an “immediate item” for her and that “it’s been discussed” with the board.

In February the board promised release of an external investigation into the removal of former business school dean Sanjay Gupta. In public comments to the board and interviews with The State News, survivor advocates said that was a step in the right direction, but a stark reminder of the remaining fight for the Nassar documents.

“You’ve now voted on transparency for the crisis of the moment,” Valarie Von Frank, a mother of a Nassar survivor, said during the February board meeting. “But the problem you have is a long-standing instinct to deny harm, deflect blame and try to burnish your brand instead of addressing the issues.”

Associated Students of MSU president Jo Kovach also called for the documents' release at the February meeting.

Friday, the board will meet publicly for the first time since the public comments in February and the attorney general’s letter. The agenda has not yet been released.

Those wishing to make public comments at Friday’s meeting must register online by Wednesday. Statements to the board can also be made by emailing trustees@msu.edu.

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