MSU says it won't turn over more than 6,000 docs in Nassar probe

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Michigan State University will not release to the state attorney general more than 6,000 documents related to the university's handling of complaints against serial molester Larry Nassar. 

On Friday, the university said it will not be waiving attorney-client privilege on the documents and acknowledged that the denial would bring an end to Attorney General Dana Nessel's investigation at the university. 

"Thank you and the Department of Attorney General for all of your work and diligence," said Brian Quinn, MSU's vice president of legal affairs and general counsel. "While I understand that the department will now be closing its investigation, please know that the department’s dedication is much appreciated."

The Michigan State University Board of Trustees holds a meeting for the first time since the appointment of Renee Knake to replace resigned trustee Nancy Schlichting on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. From left are Vice Chair Dan Kelly, President Samuel L. Stanley, Trustee Dianne Byrum and Trustee Brian Mosallam.

Nessel last month gave the board until March 26 to respond in writing to her request for the documents. She plans to close her investigation if the board fails to release the documents by its April 16 meeting.

Nessel said she was disappointed with the board's action, which "closes the last door available to finish our investigation."

"We can only emphasize again that justice doesn’t begin and end at the courthouse doors," Nessel said. "Principles of truth, fairness, and equity should be lights that guide all of our public institutions, especially our schools; and, when our universities refuse to lead, they miss the most important way they can teach."         

MSU has withheld the documents from the attorney general, saying they fall under attorney-client privilege, even though it was the university board in 2018 that requested the investigation from former Attorney General Bill Schuette.

An Ingham County circuit judge maintained in 2019 that the university was within its legal rights to protect the documents under attorney-client privilege. But others have argued the university should waive its privilege and release the documents to increase transparency and help to resolve any remaining questions around Nassar's time at the university. 

In a Friday letter to campus, MSU Board of Trustees Chairwoman Dianne Byrum acknowledged that some university members "disagreed" with the decision, but she said attorney-client is a "fundamental legal right" that applies to confidential communications only, not "facts."

Byrum touted changes the university made to its Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct policies and procedures but said, "there is more work to be done."

"As you know, MSU has been the subject of many governmental inquiries and investigations related to relationship violence and sexual misconduct," Byrum wrote. "We have provided those agencies and the department of attorney general the requested facts." 

Nassar, the former MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor, is serving an effective life sentence in prison after being charged with 10 counts of sexual assault in Ingham and Eaton counties for assaulting young women and girls under the guise of medical care over more than two decades, as well as federal child porn charges.

MSU subsequently reached an unprecedented $500 million settlement with more than 500 reported victims.

The city of East Lansing and 47 state lawmakers have called on the university to release the documents.

Staff writer Kim Kozlowski contributed.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com