UM asks court to allow communication with alumni over Anderson allegations

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Lawyers for the University of Michigan are requesting that an order preventing them from contacting alumni about a former doctor who sexually abused patients be lifted. 

The request comes amid dozens of lawsuits filed against UM and the board of regents over alleged abuse by Robert E. Anderson, the former head of University Health Services and team physician for the Athletic Department from the 1960s to 2003. Anderson died in 2008.

Lawyers for the university note that UM, "unequivocally condemns Anderson’s misconduct."

"And, although plaintiffs’ legal claims against the university are barred by the statute of limitations and the university’s sovereign immunity, the university is committed both to providing relief to the alumni Anderson harmed and to taking concrete steps to ensure that something like this cannot happen again," according to a motion filed Friday in U.S. District Court.

The motion seeks dismissal of an order by Judge Victoria Roberts that UM not communicate with alumni after several attorneys representing alleged victims of Anderson raised concerns about the university contacting potential victims of the doctor in the middle of litigation. UM said it has reached out to more than 300,000 alumni and athletes to aid its independent investigation and offer counseling.

Dr. Robert E. Anderson

"The university’s communication with its alumni was entirely appropriate; and the court exceeded its discretion by issuing a broad communication ban with no basis in fact or law," the motion said.

But Mike Cox, the former Michigan attorney general now representing more than 70 alleged victims, said that "UM knows it is doing wrong and ... the judge got it right."

The university was interfering with the fact-gathering process in court by reaching out to clients already represented by lawyers and potential clients when it sent letters and emails about Anderson, Cox said. 

"It’s wrong and Judge Roberts called them out on doing wrong," said Cox. "It’s a classic case of a judge speaking truth to power."

UM's motion also asked for clarification regarding an order that UM President Mark Schlissel take part in the next status conference, expected within two weeks.

"As the Sixth Circuit recently held, a district court abuses its discretion by ordering the university’s president, a state official, to personally attend a pretrial conference," the motion said.

It also asked for clarification on an order for representatives for the law firm conducting the investigation.

The order came after attorneys during the last status conference update suggested bringing in WilmerHale, the law firm conducting UM's independent investigation of Anderson, into court discussions about the cases since the firm's final investigative report is not expected until the end of October. That is beyond the anticipated dates for litigation. 

The order also came after concerns about a relationship between WilmerHale and Jones Day, the law firm hired to defend the university.