Michigan State fires Bob Young as chief lawyer

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Bob Young, the man John Engler brought in to be the chief lawyer at Michigan State University, has been fired, just weeks after Engler stepped down as interim president under pressure. 

Young, the university's vice president and general counsel, will walk away with nearly $1.3 million — the full amount of his three-year contract, Emily Guerrant, MSU spokeswoman confirmed. Young worked for the university for eight months.

MSU acting President Satish Udpa announced the dismissal of Young in a statement, but did not address why he was let go. 

Robert P. Young, Jr.

“We appreciate that Bob stepped in last year to help the university with the settlement and many legal issues facing MSU. It was a time of transition in the general counsel’s office,” Udpa said.

He added that Brian Quinn, deputy general counsel, will take on the role of acting general counsel.

Reached  on Saturday, Guerrant would not explain why Udpa wanted to fire Young but said the former Michigan Supreme Court justice would get the full payout of his contract.

"He's not happy about it," Guerrant said of Udpa having to honor Young's contract that was ended more than two years early. "But he will do it."

Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to accuse Nassar of sexual assault, tweeted Saturday that "this is the first specific time I can say MSU valued what is right, and the message it is sending MORE than money."

"Thank you, (Michigan State)," she tweeted. "Thank you to acting President Udpa, and to the members of the Board of Trustees) who supported this. This means a great deal to survivors."

When Young's contract began in June, officials said could be dismissed for any reason, but that he would only be denied pay if terminated for cause.

Many MSU officials and several board members, could not be reached for comment Friday evening. A message seeking comment from Young was left at the MSU general counsel's office.

Trustee Joel Ferguson declined comment, saying board members agreed not to talk about the issue and let the university-issued statement stand.

Young, a former chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court and a longtime ally of Engler, had angered victims of serial sex abuser Larry Nassar while serving as MSU's point person in negotiations that resulted in a $500 million settlement with more than 300 women.

"Fantastic news to end the day," tweeted Jacob Denhollander, the husband of Denhollander.

John Manly, an attorney who represented the majority of Nassar's victims in the $500 million settlement with MSU, called Young "John Engler's legal attack dog."

"Instead of attacking the university's insurance companies and encouraging them to settle the cases, instead he chose a tactic where he would try to attack the survivors," Manly said. "He always treated the survivors as adversaries."

Manly said Young should have advised MSU to embrace the survivors, admit responsibility and apologize, arguing that would have lowered the amount MSU paid.

Instead, Manly said, Young "revictimized the survivors and utterly decimated MSU’s reputation."

Manly also said Young, as MSU's lead counsel, did not cooperate with the Michigan Attorney General's investigation into Michigan State and worked to withhold information under attorney-client privilege.

Manly also said a report from the U.S. Department of Education that slammed MSU for its noncompliance with the Clery Act "was sitting on his desk" since December but the board did not know about it.

"I think that is a big part of" his firing, said Manly.

Engler, who took over MSU as interim president in February 2018 after the resignation of President Lou Anna Simon, brought in Young later that month to join a new legal team as the school struggled to cope with the fallout from the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal.

After the historic $500 million settlement was reached in May, Engler appointed Young as vice president and general counsel, effective June 1.

That month, the Board of Trustees approved Young's three-year contract, which came with a $425,000 salary. Trustees Dan Kelly, Dianne Byrum and Brian Mosallam voted no.

During the meeting, one of Nassar's victims, Kaylee Lorincz, lobbied the board to refrain from permanently hiring Young.

Then Engler was asked why Young was given a three-year contract when Engler, as interim president, would be gone before then, Engler said MSU needed to persuade Young to leave his law firm, that Young had negotiated the $500 million settlement and by the time the agreement is complete, Young's remaining time with MSU would be about 2 1/2 years.

"So somebody who has been part of that negotiation should be there to see it to its conclusion," Engler said.

Engler stepped down Jan. 16 at the request of trustees after he sparked a backlash by saying that some of Nassar's victims were "enjoying" the spotlight.