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Politics & Government

Michigan Attorney General Ends Campus Probe Tied To Nassar

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Cheyna Roth
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Attorney General Dana Nessel in a 2019 file photo

The investigation of Michigan State University’s handling of disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar is over because the university has refused to provide thousands of documents related to the scandal, Michigan’s attorney general said Friday.

State Attorney General Dana Nessel set Friday as a deadline for MSU to release about 6,000 documents related to the school’s investigation of Larry Nassar, so her office could conclude its own investigation.

Dana Nessel’s announcement came after the university said it would not change its position that the documents are protected by attorney-client privilege.

“The university’s refusal to voluntarily provide them closes the last door available to finish our investigation,” Nessel, a Democrat, said. “We’re incredibly disappointed that our work will end this way, especially for the survivors.”

Nassar was a campus doctor who is now serving decades in prison for sexual assault and child pornography crimes. He molested women and girls, especially gymnasts, under the guise of treatment. They were MSU athletes, U.S. Olympic gymnasts and young elite gymnasts in the Lansing region.

For more than two years, Nessel had asked MSU to release more than 6,000 documents to help shine a light on what the school knew about the abuse. Brian Quinn, vice president of legal affairs, issued a statement Friday, reiterating that the university would not comply, citing attorney-client privilege.

Nessel has pointed out that it was the university that requested the investigation because of widespread public outcry.

Democratic State Representative Julie Brixie of Michigan’s 69th District, which includes East Lansing, said she’s disappointed by the decision from the MSU Board of Trustees.

“Stonewalling the impartial investigation is not going to restore the public's trust in the university,” she said. 

Brixie was one of the 47 state legislators who signed on to a letter this past Thursday calling on MSU trustees to release the documents.

“No one is saying that something nefarious is going on that hasn't already been uncovered. What we're saying is that an independent source needs to confirm it. That's the one thing that hasn't happened at this point in time," Brixie said.

Board of Trustees Chair Dianne Byrum said in an email the university made the decision to maintain attorney-client privilege. 

“The attorney-client privilege is a fundamental legal right that applies to all individuals and institutions in the United States,” said Dianne Byrum, chairwoman of MSU’s governing board.

“The scope of the privilege is narrow. The attorney-client privilege only applies to confidential communications by a client to its attorney that are made for the purpose of obtaining legal advice,” Byrum said. “It does not protect against the discovery of facts. Facts are not privileged.”

Nessel said Nassar’s conviction didn’t end the search for justice.

“When our universities refuse to lead, they miss the most important way they can teach,” she said.

Nonetheless, the Nassar scandal has caused wide ripples at MSU. The federal government in 2019 ordered the university to make sweeping changes and pay a $4.5 million fine after determining that it failed to adequately respond to complaints about Nassar.

Lou Anna Simon resigned as president in 2018 and was subsequently charged with lying to investigators about what she knew about Nassar. The case was dismissed by a judge, a decision that Nessel has appealed.

Former gymnastics coach Kathie Klages was convicted of lying to investigators when she said she didn’t get complaints about Nassar. Nassar’s former boss, William Strampel, was convicted of neglect of duty.

MSU paid $500 million to settle lawsuits by Nassar’s victims.

 

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