UM will switch from firm that repped Epstein to complete Anderson investigation
The University of Michigan will switch its legal representation to complete its investigation of alleged sexual assaults involving the late Dr. Robert E. Anderson.
The decision came after the university said in a statement Saturday that it realized the first firm it had contracted with had defended two prominent men accused of sexual abuse, the late financier Jeffrey Epstein and director Roman Polanski.
The university promised "more details in the very near future" and said it would announce the new firm when it had one.
“(Over) the past few days, we have become aware that a different set of attorneys in a different branch of this multinational firm once represented prominent clients who were accused of sexual misconduct,” the university said in the statement. “After consulting with survivors, we have determined that this could discourage survivors hurt by Dr. Anderson from coming forward."
As of Friday, UM had not released its contract with Steptoe & Johnson, the law firm it originally hired to investigate the Anderson case. The Detroit News filed a Freedom of Information Act request on Feb. 19 for the contract, which UM had not fulfilled as of Saturday.
Meanwhile, UM said it wants to provide a “safe and secure environment for survivors to share their stories,” and in order to do that, the university had to change representation.
“As a result, we have decided to engage a different firm to complete the investigation, while working to ensure a smooth transition and continue the progress we have made," it said.
Activists have criticized UM and accused the university of acting like Michigan State University, which faced fierce criticism for its response to the scandal involving the now-imprisoned Larry Nassar, who sexually assaulted female athletes for decades.
“The selection of a law firm that represents Polanski & Epstein to investigate Anderson & Michigan is breathtaking in its stupidity & insensitivity. Hundreds of survivors entrusted their stories to these lawyers only to find out the firm represented the two most well known pedophiles in the world,” said John Manly, the lawyer who helped Nassar victims land a $500 million settlement against MSU.
“That’s unforgivable. This event brings into sharp focus why survivors should ever trust the University of Michigan.”
Sarah Klein, an attorney, advocate and a Nassar victim, said on Twitter that the university should stop hiring lawyers and meet with the attorney general.
"Took us one day of internet research to figure out that @UMich hired Epstein lawyers. They figured it out by reading our tweets," she wrote. "Advice: stop hiring lawyers and engage the ATTORNEY GENERAL."
Sexual abuse allegations emerged two weeks ago against Anderson, who was head of the University Health Service and the team doctor for the Athletic Department between 1968-2003.
UM has offered free counseling for victims and a hotline for them to call. Broekhuizen said Friday that UM had received 140 unique complaints, most of them through the hotline.
On Friday, UM issued a statement that apologized again for the alleged sexual assaults by Anderson but didn't address a key issue raised by victims and advocates seeking the truth.
"We are sorry for the pain caused by the failures of our beloved University," said the statement, attributed to UM President Mark Schlissel and the Board of Regents. "The allegations that have surfaced sadden and disgust us.
"We are profoundly grateful to our courageous alumni who have stepped forward to hold our University accountable. We stand committed to the thorough, independent and transparent investigation launched by an external firm into the disgraceful behavior that has been reported."
The apology isn't the first from UM regarding Anderson, who allegedly sexually assaulted athletes, students and other patients for decades.
It follows public statements this week from several men who allege Anderson abused them and from several women who were sexually assaulted by Nassar, who is in prison for his crimes. Former Attorney General Mike Cox, now in private practice, filed the first nine lawsuits against the university from Anderson's accusers and said more are coming.
All have demanded transparency and accountability regarding Anderson.