UM withdraws law firm it hired for lawsuits over sex abuse by doctor

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

The University of Michigan is withdrawing the law firm the school hired to represent the Board of Regents in lawsuits involving Dr. Robert E. Anderson, the late doctor who has been accused of sexually assaulting students decades ago.

UM officials said it filed a motion Wednesday to withdraw Troy-based Bush Seyferth as the university's lawyers — less than two weeks after the firm filed motions to dismiss 19 lawsuits against the university.

"The university has decided to change counsel in the cases brought by individuals for claims against the university based on allegations of misconduct by Robert Anderson," UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald did not explain why or indicate whether UM has hired another firm. He said that UM retained Bush Seyferth in March 2020.

Representatives for the firm could not be immediately reached.

More than 50 former athletes and other students have sued UM since March, alleging Anderson sexually assaulted them during medical treatment. The physician served as head of the University Health Service and team doctor for the UM Athletic Department between 1968-2003. He died in 2008.

The suits, which also name the regents as defendants, allege the university was aware of Anderson's misconduct and is responsible for it because "UM placed vulnerable student athletes ... in Anderson’s care despite knowing he was a sexual predator." 

Thomas Easthope, former UM associate director of students, allegedly fired Anderson in 1979  for "fooling around with male students" in exam rooms, but the doctor was able to serve UM another 24 years. But that didn't emerge until earlier this year when an 18-month UM police investigation emerged in February after the Robert Julian Stone became the first man to publicly accuse Anderson of assault.

The lawsuits, filed mostly by former Attorney General Mike Cox, allege a cover-up.

They also allege athletes told five UM representatives about Anderson's behavior, including UM Assistant Athletic Director Paul W. Schmidt, who is still employed by the university. 

In April, the firm filed a motion to consolidate the lawsuits.

Earlier this month, it also filed a motion to dismiss the suits, alleging the plaintiffs waited too long to sue.

The university has said it believes Anderson assaulted athletes, and it wants to compensate victims. But it added that it’s trying to avoid “drawn-out litigation” while a law firm investigates what happened during Anderson’s decades in Ann Arbor. 

Several other law firms have said they plan to sue UM, include the team of lawyers who represented the victims in the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal. They say they expect to file suit on behalf of 100 victims.