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Nassar survivors and families sue MSU for lack of transparency

Survivors of sexual abuse, their family and attorney Azzam Elder at a press conference announcing lawsuit against MSU and the Board of Trustees.
Wali Khan
Survivors of sexual abuse from former sports doctor Larry Nassar want MSU's Board of Trustees to hold a public meeting and vote releasing documents related to an investigation on Nassar.

Updated July 28, 2023 at 9:51 a.m. ET

Survivors of sex abuse by former Michigan State University sports doctor Larry Nassar are filing a lawsuit against Michigan State University.

The group of parents and survivors known as POSSE (Parents of Sister Survivors Engage) want MSU to be more transparent about a decision to keep documents related to Nassar out of the public.

Annette Hill, a defendant in the lawsuit, said during a press conference announcing the legal action Thursday she wants the school to be held accountable.

Hill has previously spoken up in public meetings about the abuse she endured under Nassar.

“When I hear the name of Michigan State, I associated that back with Larry Nassar, and at this point, I hate Michigan State. I hate what they're doing. I hate what they did to protect him and not protect us as survivors,” she said.

Attorney General Dana Nessel had asked for the documents in 2018 for an investigation she began at the behest of the Board of Trustees. Nessel eventually closed the case in 2021 due to a lack of cooperation from the university. She renewed that request in April of this year, citing new membership in the group.

MSU says the documents are protected by attorney-client privilege in ongoing litigation with United Educators, which was once MSU’s biggest insurance carrier.

In an interview with WKAR in March, Board of Trustees Chair Rema Vassar said releasing the documents was a priority for her. However, theboard again declined to publish them during an April meeting.

Azzam Elder, an attorney for the survivors, said Trustees violated the Freedom of Information Act and Open Meetings Act. The Open Meetings Act states meetings of a public body must be open to the public and must be held in a place available to the public.

“We contend that board members made a behind-closed-doors secret decision not to release the records in blatant violation of the Open Meetings Act,” Elder said in a release.

In a press conference on the edge of campus, Elder said he hoped the presiding judge would allow video depositions.

“The only way for them to circumvent this is to do the right thing. Set it on the agenda, have a public vote. And we're done. That simple,” he said.

The lawsuit calls for the court to cancel decisions made behind closed doors and publicly vote on releasing the 6,000 documents; for the university to turn over emails and other communications about decisions trustees may have made out of the public eye, in violation of the law; to have the court declare that MSU violated the Freedom of Information Act; and to compel the university to comply with both FOIA and the Open Meetings Act going forward.

The group is not seeking financial retribution at the time.

Another survivor named in the lawsuit, Lizzie Mauer went public about her experiences as a survivor for the first time at the press conference.

“I see friends and family wearing Michigan State sweatshirts or T-shirts, and I just can't help but feel pain because Michigan State has never done the right thing. These documents have been sitting there waiting to be read,” she said.

In an emailed statement, university officials said they could not comment on pending litigation and that they had not yet been served with the lawsuit.

As WKAR's Bilingual Latinx Stories Reporter, Michelle reports in both English and Spanish on stories affecting Michigan's Latinx community.
Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
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