Lawyer for alleged victims says UM doctor was 'very, very bad man'
Novi — More and more individuals, mostly male former student-athletes, are coming forward in a building University of Michigan sexual abuse case.
Attorney Parker Stinar said in a news conference Wednesday night that his firm, Denver-based Wahlberg, Woodruff, Nimmo & Sloane, is representing nearly 60 alleged victims, among them a football player from Michigan’s 1997 national championship team, another football player who went on to play professionally, and athletes from baseball, track and field, swimming, wrestling and hockey.
Stinar was joined by attorneys Michael Nimmo and Dan Sloane, and offered an update on the firm’s meeting with the university and its independent investigators from the Steptoe firm as well as the growing number of victims. Nimmo said meetings with general counsel from the university have been productive and there has been an open line of communication.
The Detroit News first reported Feb. 19 that UM was investigating claims of sexual abuse by Dr. Robert E. Anderson, a former director of the University Health Service before he became the lead doctor for Michigan athletics. The allegations emerged when Michigan alum Robert Julian Stone shared his account of alleged abuse during a medical exam in 1971 by Anderson.
Stone spoke with The News after learning from a UM detective that other claims against the doctor had spawned a UM police investigation in 2018. Stone was concerned that the investigation would never become public if someone didn’t speak publicly.
Anderson, described as a “very, very bad man” and a “manipulator” by Stinar, was the Michigan athletic department team physician from 1967 to 2003. Anderson was 80 when he died in 2008.
Stinar said Wednesday that his clients wish to remain anonymous, hence the decision not to file any lawsuits.
“(We) think we can accomplish and maintain our clients' confidentiality and wishes without filing a public lawsuit,” he said later, adding he has encouraged his clients to contact the Attorney General so the state can conduction an investigation.
“The clients we represent love and cherish the University of Michigan,” Stinar said. “Some are employed by the University of Michigan. Our clients have expressed to us that they don’t want to be alienated or punished by the University of Michigan and they don’t want the University of Michigan to be dragged through the mud with this investigation.”
He said the firm has developed a legal strategy to accomplish the goals of the alleged victims, who he said want Michigan to be held accountable.
What the lawyers have heard from victims is similar stories of abuse.
“I don’t think there’s a same story when it pertains to sexual abuse,” Stinar said. “What I believe we feel very confident about is Dr. Anderson was a very, very bad man. He took advantage of individuals and he was a manipulator, especially with young individuals who were at a stage in their life that they were away from home for the first time. That up until that point, all medical appointments were with their parents, and they’re in a situation where the university provided them Dr. Anderson. And the university told them they could trust Dr. Anderson and what he was going to do.”
Nimmo said a number of clients have indicated that many at the time knew about Dr. Anderson.
“I wouldn’t say every one of our clients have said that, but a lot of them have,” Nimmo said.
“Including coaches, athletic directors and officials of the school,” Sloane interjected.
Stinar and his colleagues met Wednesday morning with the lead counsel for the Steptoe firm and said he expressed “some legal concerns” about the investigation and how it’s being conducted. He has advised his clients to not speak to lawyers from the Steptoe firm.
Meanwhile, lawyers from the firm and UM have meet twice in person.
“Based on our two meetings, we believe the university is willing to work with us and maintain the confidentiality of our clients, and we intend on continuing to reach out to the university to speak with them and accomplish these goals,” Nimmo said.
He said discussions have gone well.
“I would characterize them as open and honest and sincere,” Nimmo said. “I believe the university is trying to do the right thing. They’re trying to work with us, I think, to do the right thing and that’s why we continue to talk to them. If we didn’t feel like they had the right intentions or they weren’t being honest with us, we would not be talking to them anymore.”
Also on Wednesday, the first lawsuit against the University of Michigan involving sexual abuse allegations against the late Dr. Anderson was filed in U.S. District Court by a former wrestler who claims Anderson abused him at least 35 times in the 1980s. This is the first of 11 suits expected to be filed by former UM athletes, according to David Shea of the Shea Law Firm in Southfield.
The allegations come during an era when people across society are bringing complaints about sexual assaults from the past for closure, accountability and justice.
For the past three years, MSU has faced fierce criticism over its handling of allegations against Dr. Larry Nassar, regarded as one of the worst sexual offenders in history. Former MSU president Lou Anna Simon faces a yet-to-be scheduled trial this year for her alleged role in the scandal.
Last month, a jury convicted former MSU head gymnastics coach Kathie Klages of lying to investigators about her knowledge of sex abuse allegations against Nassar.
Other universities have faced scandals involving high-profile sexual predators in their ranks, including Pennsylvania State University, the University of Southern California and Ohio State University, which faces lawsuits from about 350 men alleging the school failed to stop sports doctor Richard Strauss from abusing them between 1979 and 1997.
At UM, the school's second-highest official, Provost Martin Philbert, was suspended in January after several sexual misconduct allegations were lodged against him.
Sloane said that as for the allegations against Anderson, it is now about the University of Michigan taking accountability.
“We want accountability to also mean this hopefully never happening again anywhere in the future,” Sloane said. “We don’t know if it’s happened anywhere in the past, but institutions need to take note of what went on and do whatever they can to ensure that it doesn’t go on in the future. That’s part of accountability to the University of Michigan and accountability everywhere else.”