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Court grants delay in UM sex case hearing president was ordered to attend

Robert Snell
The Detroit News
University of Michigan's President Mark Schlissel

The University of Michigan won a last-minute bid Wednesday to shield President Mark Schlissel from attending a court hearing and publicly discussing a sexual misconduct case against a student.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati granted a request to delay the hearing, the latest twist in a legal fight stemming from a civil lawsuit filed against the university by a graduate student accused of sexual misconduct.

The student, identified as John Doe, is suing the university, which froze Doe’s undergraduate degree and academic transcript until U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow intervened in 2018, said the student's attorney, Deborah Gordon.

Last month, Tarnow took the extraordinary step of ordering Schlissel to attend a status conference Thursday in federal court in Detroit. The judge rejected a request by the university to reconsider and ruled the conference would be open due to the public interest in the case.

"Judge Tarnow abused his discretion when he ordered the university’s president to personally attend a settlement conference to be conducted in public and on the record," university lawyer Erin Ramamurthy wrote Wednesday in a request to delay the hearing.

A delay would serve "the strong public interest in favor of secrecy of matters discussed by parties during settlement negotiations," the lawyer added.

Appeals Court Judge Raymond Kethledge indefinitely delayed Thursday's hearing to provide more time to consider the university's arguments.

Previously, Tarnow was blunt in ordering Schlissel to attend the court hearing.

“He will be here," Tarnow said. “This should be more important to him than almost anything going on at the university. … I am not sure I would understand anything else being more important than resolving what is a hot button issue at every university in this country."

Doe denies any wrongdoing and said the sex was consensual after the pair watched movies in a dorm room, his lawyer said. Alcohol and drugs weren’t involved.

A federal appeals court, in a major decision last year, said the university must allow cross-examination in sexual misconduct hearings.

Gordon said it’s important to have Schlissel directly involved in Doe’s case.

There is no factual basis to delay the hearing, Gordon wrote in a filing Wednesday.

"The University of Michigan has a history of failing to follow this court's decisions with regard to providing due process to students accused of sexual misconduct," Gordon wrote.

The university "cannot show 'irreparable harm' simply because the president of the university must appear in the district court courtroom for a conference...," Gordon added.


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The Associated Press contributed