Key witness in UM doctor case to be deposed

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Lawyers will depose a key witness as part of the lawsuits against the University of Michigan involving the decades of alleged sexual abuse by the late Dr. Robert E. Anderson.

In a ruling filed Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts ordered that Thomas Easthope be deposed in July for trial preservation in the lawsuits against UM and the Board of Regents linked to Anderson — the former head of University Health Service and team physician for the UM Athletic Department from 1968-2003. All parties have agreed to Easthope giving sworn out-of-court testimony. 

An October 1987 edition of the Michigan Daily highlighted the resignation of Thomas Easthope as associate vice president for student services.

Easthope served as UM's associate vice president for student services from 1970-88 and recently told police he fired the doctor in 1979 after reports that Anderson had been abusing patients in exam rooms. Anderson served on UM's staff for another 24 years. 

His role became public in February when the UM Police Department's investigation of Anderson emerged under the Freedom of Information Act. Wednesday's ruling also orders that UM produce by June 30 any additional "notes, documents, audio tapes, and/or video tapes, in whatever medium held, including electronic, related to University of Michigan Police Department Detective Mark West’s investigation into allegations about Dr. Anderson ..." 

The ruling is in response to an emergency motion filed by former Attorney General Mike Cox and attorney David J. Shea on April 17 to depose Easthope for trial preservation in the case involving John Doe MC-1. Easthope is 87.

Cox and Shea also are representing 65 victims who are suing UM in connection with Anderson's abuse, and other lawyers have filed lawsuits on behalf of other alleged victims or said they intend to sue the university.

UM, which acknowledged that Anderson abused patients in a May 1 motion to dismiss the cases, is not opposed to Easthope's deposition following a May 19 status conference with the parties involved, according to the order. 

"Easthope, who is 87 years old, is one of very few living former UM administrators with personal knowledge, from as early as 1979, of Anderson’s abuse and is still alive to testify to central topics to this litigation," Cox wrote in his emergency motion. 

Cox also noted that 18 UM administrative, medical and sports figures or others with connections to Anderson in a UM police investigation are deceased. 

Easthope could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald declined comment.

The judge ruled that the deposition be taken via video on the condition that there is a discovery deposition about a week beforehand.

"The parties agree that the video trial preservation deposition will be the one used on all current and future cases brought by the plaintiffs against the university or other defendants related to the Dr. Anderson litigation," Roberts wrote. "... (A)ny party may use any deposition of Mr. Easthope at trial ..."

No additional depositions will be taken of Easthope in any other lawsuits related to Anderson, the order said, "absent a showing of good cause." 

The ruling came on behalf of John Doe MC-1, a former UM wrestler who received an athletic scholarship to attend UM from 1984-89. He allegedly was subjected to unnecessary digital penetration and genital fondling under the guise of a medical exam and sued because the university is allegedly responsible for putting him and other athletes "in Anderson’s care despite knowing he was a sexual predator," according to the lawsuit. 

Several other alleged victims have sued UM for failing to protect them against Anderson. Annika K. Martin, a New York-based lawyer in one of the cases said the deposition of Easthope is critical. 

"The deposition of Tom Easthope is a major step in uncovering the scope of UM’s wrongdoing and cover-up of Dr. Anderson’s abuse," said Martin. "Discovery like this underscores the importance of a transparent process overseen by the court that will hold UM accountable and ensure victims are compensated fairly.

"UM’s plans to create its own secret claims resolution program would only serve to protect UM while preventing the truth from coming to light. We will fight so that every survivor has an opportunity to obtain justice and create lasting change at UM to prevent this type of abuse from ever occurring again.”

Anderson's alleged abuse came to light in February after Robert Julian Stone became the first man to publicly accuse Anderson of sexual assault in The Detroit News.

A few days later, the Washtenaw County Prosecutor's Office released an 18-month investigation of the UM Police Department involving Anderson, several witnesses and other victims. Easthope's interview was among the most critical.

On Nov. 2, 2018, Easthope told West, the UM police detective investigating the allegations, that he fired Anderson in 1979 for "fooling around with male students" in exam rooms. 

During an interview with West, Easthope told him that activists approached him nearly half a century ago and told him that Anderson had assaulted many people in the gay community.

Easthope said he "would never forget walking across the campus to Health Services to fire Bob."

"Easthope said that he told Dr. Anderson that he knew he was fooling around in the exam rooms with the boy patients. Anderson just looked at him, but he did not deny it," according to the police report.

Easthope also told the detective that police "may have over 100 victims."

The doctor died in 2008.

Easthope initially told detectives he fired Anderson "on the spot" but shortly after said he may have allowed the doctor to resign. He told the officers he believed Anderson had returned to private practice.

Cox argued that Easthope's testimony could shed light on a number of issue "including, among other things":

►Easthope’s discussion(s) with Anderson in which only he and Anderson participated.

►Reasons Easthope believed Anderson should be fired from UM.

►Reasons Easthope believed there were so many survivors of Anderson’s abuse.

►How Easthope knew that Anderson “fool(ed) around in the exam room with boy patients.”

►What Easthope did to apprise responsible persons at UM of Anderson’s conduct.

►Defendants’ failure to act on and/or investigate complaints against Anderson.

►Anderson’s transfer to the Athletic Department instead of termination from UM as Easthope attempted.

The ruling also set an Aug. 31 deadline for plaintiffs to respond to UM's motion to dismiss and file amended complaints. The university will have until Sept. 30 to file renewed motions to dismiss; plaintiffs will have until Oct. 20 to respond.

The ruling also showed that Jones Day is the new law firm representing UM, with Stephen J. Cowen the lead attorney. The university withdrew the previous firm, Troy-based Bush Seyferth.