Engler taps longtime ally for MSU legal team

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Continuing his overhaul of the leadership at Michigan State University, interim President John Engler tapped a longtime political ally Tuesday to join a new legal team as the school struggles to cope with the fallout from the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal.

Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. will work as the lead counsel assigned to coordinate the numerous investigations involving MSU’s handling of the allegations against Nassar and Title IX lawsuits that have been filed against the school. Young also will oversee the law firms that are assisting the university.

“We will need all of Bob Young’s legal and administrative skills in the weeks ahead as we seek to fulfill our commitments to the survivors and answer any questions that are asked,” Engler said in a statement.

It’s the second time Engler has chosen Young for an important job: as governor, he named Young to the state Supreme Court in 1999.

Besides hiring Young, Engler appointed Kristine Zayko, MSU’s deputy general counsel since 2008, as acting vice president for legal affairs and general counsel. She replaces Bob Noto, who will step down March 5 after serving as the university’s general counsel since 1995.

At least one MSU trustee, Brian Mosallam, had called for Noto to resign in the wake of the scandal involving Nassar, who sexually abused more than 200 girls and women while employed as a sports doctor for the university.

The hiring of Young comes amid a flurry of appointments by Engler, who became MSU’s leader Feb. 5 after former President Lou Anna Simon resigned under pressure. Since then, he has created three new positions of assistant provost or higher and hired a public relations firm, a law firm and a private investigative firm.

Those hired include longtime political aides Carol Morely Viventi, named to the newly created post of vice president and special counsel to the president, at a salary of $250,000 a year, and John Truscott of the Truscott Rossman public relations firm, to help with crisis communications and media relations, on a three-month contract for $325 an hour.

Truscott said Young will work on a contract basis and will not be permanently employed by the university. His salary was not available.

“When he was chief justice, he cleaned up the court system statewide and made it much more efficient for users,” Truscott said. “He also returned a sense of collegiality to the court.”

Truscott said he did not know Zayko’s salary or whether she would get a temporary pay increase.

The appointment of Young, 66, comes the month after he dropped out of this year’s race for U.S. Senate following months of lackluster fundraising. Engler had endorsed Young, who retired as chief justice last April, in his abortive Senate bid.

As of last week, Young was representing Gov. Rick Snyder in a lawsuit seeking to force the governor to use his power to oust MSU trustees.

“I am pleased to assist the university in addressing its multiple challenges,” Young said in a statement. “President Engler has made it clear that MSU is cooperating fully with the various investigations and that will be an ongoing priority for me.”

The appointment of Engler and his subsequent hires have drawn criticism from some MSU faculty members who say the university needs to address its sexual assault crisis before moving on.

Protesters, including assistant sociology professor Jean Boucher, interrupted a Board of Trustees meeting Friday to demand accountability and action to help victims from MSU’s leaders.

“I feel like an outside money is running the show here,” Boucher said Tuesday.

Noto’s departure comes a few weeks after Mosallam called for his resignation after a second Title IX report from a 2014 investigation emerged, showing that a victim who filed the complaint got a version of the report that omitted some details.

Both versions of the report cleared Nassar, but the unabridged report that recently surfaced, which was marked confidential, showed that Nassar was a liability to the university and “is exposing patients to unnecessary trauma based on the possibility of perceived inappropriate sexual misconduct.”

“I call for the immediate resignation of Bob Noto followed by an independent review of the legal department’s handling of the Nassar matter,” Mosallam said then.

He declined to comment Tuesday.

Noto’s retirement comes as 200 women who were victims of Nassar have filed civil lawsuits, naming the university and others as defendants. A Detroit News investigation found at least 14 staff members at MSU received reports of sexual misconduct by Nassar in the two decades before his arrest.

Nassar has pleaded guilty to child pornography and sexual abuse charges and is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison.


Jonathan Oosting contributed.