Lawmaker: No public funds for sex assault settlements

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — The chairman of a powerful state House committee wants to stop Michigan’s public colleges and universities from using taxpayer money to settle legal claims related to sexual misconduct.

Rep. Klint Kesto, chairman of the House Law and Justice Committee, said Thursday he plans to introduce legislation banning the practice. The Commerce Township Republican’s committee is an initial destination for key pieces of criminal justice legislation that go on to the full House floor or Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk.

Kesto said the bill comes in response to the scandal involving former Michigan State University Dr. Larry Nassar, who has pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting patients while working for USA Gymnastics and as a Michigan State University doctor.

Nearly 150 girls and women have alleged sexual assault and have sought legal representation in civil lawsuits against Nassar, MSU, Gedderts’ Twistars USA Gymnastics Club, USA Gymnastics and other individuals. USA Gymnastics reached a $1.25 million settlement with one of Nassar’s victims in December 2016, according to the Los Angeles Times and other outlets, while MSU has agreed to set up a $10 million fund to cover mental health services for victims.

“Let’s stop it from happening, then they don’t have to pay it out,” Kesto said in a Thursday interview about his proposed ban on potential university payouts. “And when it does happen, let’s not have it continue like it did in this Nassar case, over and over again. Then you don’t need a fund.”

Michigan State University spokesman Jason Cody said lawsuits involving Nassar and the university are ongoing and would not comment on any potential settlements, saying “it is not appropriate to speculate.”

Nassar has been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison on charges stemming from having 37,000 pornographic images of children. He also pleaded guilty in separate state cases led by Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office to 10 charges of first-degree sexual assault of young girls during routine medical visits involving nine girls.

House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-Dewitt, has called for MSU President Lou Anna Simon to resign over the handling of the Nassar allegations. Leonard and other House GOP leaders decide which bills get floor votes.

Lawsuits from victims of former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky ended up costing $109 million in settlements, according to the Associated Press.

Nassar’s attorneys filed an appeal earlier in December in the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals over the child pornography charges.