MSU trustees hire $990-an-hour law firm as probes mount
The Michigan State University Board of Trustees — facing hundreds of lawsuits, numerous investigations and calls for members to resign in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal — has retained another $990-an-hour law firm to represent its interests.
Though two law firms already represent the university in more than 250 lawsuits filed by Nassar’s victims, the university’s Office of the General Counsel on Feb. 7 hired the firm Akin Gump to represent the board, according to MSU media relations.
At least one trustee said the firm will work with the board to comply with the scores of investigations and change the culture that allowed Nassar to prey on hundreds of young women for decades.
Akin Gump is a Washington, D.C.-based law firm with offices around the globe. The main attorneys to work with the board include Steven R. Ross and Doug Maynard at a rate of $990 an hour, according to a contract provided by MSU.
“The university retained Akin Gump to represent and provide separate counsel to the Board with respect to its obligations and fiduciary duties as the Board of Trustees in connection with the Nassar matter and related issues,” Board Chairman Brian Breslin said in a statement issued by the MSU media office.
“Akin Gump is coordinating its work with MSU’s internal legal team and the external law firms that the university has retained to address the various inquiries and legal matters associated with the actions of Nassar.”
MSU is in the midst of several investigations by Congress, the NCAA, the federal Office for Civil Rights, the U.S. Education Department and the Michigan Attorney General’s Office.
All are looking into how MSU’s responded or failed to respond to allegations against Nassar — who has been convicted and essentially sentenced to a lifetime in prison for sexually assaulting at least 265 women over two decades while an MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor.
“During this critical period, it is vital that our Board bring in external advisors to ensure that the university fully cooperates with all ongoing investigations and that we properly exercise our independent oversight responsibilities of the administration’s response to this crisis,” MSU Trustee Brian Mosallam posted on his Twitter feed. “We must address and change this university’s siloed culture in addition to improving policies, procedures and practices concerning sexual misconduct so that this never happens again.”
But a faculty member suggested the university is spending far more on protecting the university’s reputation than assisting Nassar’s victims and other MSU sexual assault survivors.
Glenn Stutzky, senior clinical instructor in the MSU School of Social Work, said he wonders how much money interim President John Engler has spent on the new hires, compared with the amount spent hiring counselors for campus and adding funds for sexual assault programming.
“I think you will see the majority and priority goes to protecting the brand,” Stutzky said. “Brand over people. But Engler is just doing what the Board of Trustees hired him to do.”
MSU and the trustees already have two firms representing them in federal civil litigation, led by Patrick Fitzgerald of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP of Chicago, which also charges $990 an hour.
Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone PLC of Lansing also represents the board and the trustees, led by attorney Scott Eldridge, at an hourly rate of $360. Assisting him are attorneys Megan Norris and Brian Schwartz, who charge $455 and $360 an hour, respectively, according to the contract with MSU.
“It sounds like the board is scared if they are hiring their own counsel when they have two law firms representing them already in the litigation,” said David Mittleman, an Okemos-based attorney who is representing more than 90 of Nassar’s victims.
MSU hired Akin Gump as a growing number of voices were calling for the board’s resignation, and a week before the MSU Faculty Senate made a rare move and cast a vote of no confidence in the board.
Late last month, the Faculty Senate called for the board to resign.
Others have also called for trustees to resign, including some members of Congress.