Finley: MSU ‘probe’ was not independent

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

No wonder the special investigator hired by Michigan State University failed to find any culpability on the part of school officials in the serial molestation of young girls and women by a physician on the MSU payroll.

That’s not what he was hired to do.

A look at the contract with Patrick Fitzgerald’s law firm, which was obtained by The Detroit News, indicates he was brought on to do just the opposite. Fitzgerald is being paid $990 an hour to help shield the university from legal liability in the lawsuits filed by 150 victims of Dr. Larry Nassar.

Here’s how the contract with the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP describes the assignment:

“As described to us, the (e)ngagement involves assisting the (u)niversity to coordinate its response to the allegations of misconduct concerning Dr. Larry Nasser. This will include facilitating cooperation with appropriate law enforcement and regulatory authorities concerning Dr. Nassar, counseling on any internal reviews conducted to make sure they are carried out in a matter that will best assist the University’s response and will not compromise any law enforcement or regulatory actions concerning Dr. Nassar, and providing assistance in anticipation of and with respect to any civil litigation that may arise.”

While a university spokesman told The News it is conducting a thorough investigation, nothing in that contract language suggests Fitzgerald is charged with a let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may probe of who knew what and when at MSU.

In fact, the contract speaks only of counseling the university on such an internal review and making sure it is carried out in a way to help the university respond to the allegations made in the civil litigation.

That explains why Fitzgerald never interviewed the gymnasts who say they told coaches, university officials and campus police about their concerns with Nassar’s treatment practices.

The attorney’s job is to limit MSU’s exposure, not increase it by turning up information that might aid the 150 federal court lawsuits filed against the university, President Lou Anna Simon, the board and other officials.

In effect, while MSU has created the impression Fitzgerald is an independent investigator, he is serving more in the role of defense counsel.

As such, the law firm has an attorney/client relationship with the university, and could not reveal damaging information unless instructed to by MSU.

The bottom line is that there has been no truly independent and impartial review of the allegations in the lawsuits that MSU, Simon, the board of trustees and other officials failed to protect those Nassar victims who were abused on campus.

MSU is a public university. If it is found liable or agrees to settle the lawsuits, the cost could reach up to $1 billion or more. That’s an obligation Michigan taxpayers would share.

Foisting the pretense that a legitimate, independent investigation has cleared the university of any wrongdoing amounts to a cover-up.

If Simon won’t order a real probe, the trustees should replace her and find a president who will. And if the trustees won’t act, then voters should begin replacing them in next fall’s election.

Catch “The Nolan Finley Show” weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.