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Cost of board impropriety investigation tops $1.5 million

April 30, 2024
 Board of Trustees Meeting held at the Hannah Administration Building on Apr. 21, 2023.
Board of Trustees Meeting held at the Hannah Administration Building on Apr. 21, 2023.

Costs associated with the outside investigation into impropriety within Michigan State University's Board of Trustees have now topped $1.5 million dollars, according to invoices obtained by The State News through public records requests.

The investigation, conducted by law firm Miller & Chevalier and publicized on Feb. 28, ultimately found that then-board chair Rema Vassar and trustee Dennis Denno violated board policies by interfering in university affairs and orchestrating "attacks" on colleagues. Both have rebuked many of the findings.

Vassar resigned as chair shortly before the rest of the board voted to refer her and Denno to the governor for potential removal and strip them of their duties, actions the firm recommended. The governor's office last said it will "carefully review" the request. Vassar remains on the board as a trustee.

The firm billed MSU $1,461,225.07 for work up to Jan. 31, including travel and meal costs. Investigators' hourly rates ranged from $350-$960, invoices show. 

University spokesperson Mark Bullion said that while the bill was the most recent one they’ve received from the firm, the General Counsel's office is still expecting bills to be sent for the months of February and March.

MSU also footed the bill for legal representation for Vassar and Denno during the investigation, as required by the university’s indemnification policy.

MSU paid Royal Oak law firm Ahmad & Akbar Law a $7,000 retainer fee to represent Denno. Hourly rates for the attorneys range from $75-$400 per hour, but no work had been billed as of the contract’s signature date, Dec. 6, 2023.

The university also paid $318,979.90 for Miller Law to represent Vassar throughout the investigation. 

It's unclear whether MSU will continue paying for the trustees' legal representation now that the Miller & Chevalier investigation is over.

The latest invoices show that MSU paid for Vassar's attorneys to do 10.5 hours of work on Feb. 29, a day after the report was released.

Vassar's attorneys continued their work after the report was released. They issued a 22 page response to the investigation in March, arguing the investigation was conducted without due process for her and the subsequent report lacked "essential" information.

Board chair Dan Kelly wasn't able to say whether Vassar's response would be covered by MSU. Indemnification is offered "on a day to day basis, depending on what the request is," he told reporters after the board's April 12 meeting.

The board decides whether to approve indemnification for individual trustees, according to the policy.

Both Vassar and Denno have hinted at litigation in response to the board’s vote to refer them to the governor for potential removal.

Denno, in a statement issued hours before the board voted to refer him and Vassar to the governor for potential removal and temporarily strip them of their duties, said he has "legal counsel reviewing a potential lawsuit should this board not do the right thing here."

Vassar said she “intends to take formal steps to obtain all investigation materials” and instructed the firm to preserve all records relating to the work.

Requests for document preservation are often a first step in civil litigation.

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