MSU board hires its own high-powered law firm to represent it in investigations

The firm, Akin Gump, will represent just the board, not the general university. MSU Interim President John Engler has hired several firms to represent the university.

Michigan State University's Board of Trustees, under fire for its lack of action during the Larry Nassar case, has hired a high-powered law firm to represent the eight members of the board.

The firm, Akin Gump, will represent just the board, not the general university. MSU Interim President John Engler has hired several firms to represent the university.

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"The university retained Akin Gump to represent and provide separate counsel to the Board with respect to its obligations and fiduciary duties as the Board of Trustees in connection with the Nassar matter and related issues," MSU board chairman Brian Breslin said in a statement issued to the Free Press through the university's public relations office. “Akin Gump is coordinating its work with MSU’s internal legal team and the external law firms that the university has retained to address the various inquiries and legal matters associated with the actions of Nassar.”

The board drew heavy fire late last month during a closed-door meeting with MSU representatives and members of Congress.

While none of those inside spoke for attribution, citing the confidential nature of the gathering, two acknowledged that U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, in particular vented his frustrations that the board didn't do more to respond to sexual assault allegations at the university and wondered openly whether a process to hold members accountable is needed.

Two people quoted Upton, an influential member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, as saying the current members of the board "need to go."

The sources said other members of the state's delegation seemed to agree, with one, U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, calling the university's handling of the Nassar case — in which the former sports doctor was convicted of sexually molesting dozens of women athletes — "inexcusable."

MSU board member Brian Mosallam tweeted out a statement after the Free Press published the news of the law firm being hired.

"During this critical period it is vital that our board bring in external advisers to help ensure that the university fully cooperates with all ongoing investigations and that we properly exercise our independent oversight responsibilities of the administration's response to this crisis. We must address and change this university's siloed culture in addition to improving it polices, procedures and practices concerning sexual misconduct so that this never happens again."

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Doug Maynard and Steven R. Ross of the firm's Washington, D.C., office will be the main attorneys for MSU, according to a copy of the contract between the firm and MSU, obtained by the Free Press through a records request from MSU.

The contract gives MSU a 10% discount on normal rates, it says, but will charge them $990 an hour for Maynard's and Ross' time. Other attorneys at the firm will charge between $445 an hour and $990 an hour. Hourly rates for paralegals run between $175 an hour and $385 an hour.

There is no monthly retainer. There is also no limit set in the contract on how much MSU will pay.

The contract was signed on Feb. 7, one week before the MSU Faculty Senate voted overwhelmingly to issue a statement of "no confidence" in the board.

"The reasons were plain as day for anybody looking at this campus for the past several months," said at-large faculty steering committee member Robert LaDuca at the time.

Lou Anna Simon, MSU's president since 2005, resigned in January amid fallout over the handling of the Nassar scandal. Her contract allows her to assume a tenured position in the College of Education after leaving the presidency.

Board members have been heavily criticized for not firing Simon. Since then, they have also been criticized for selecting Engler, a former Republican governor in Michigan, as interim president.

Engler has brought in a bevy of outside firms to work on the response to various investigations, including hiring former Michigan Chief Justice Bob Young Jr. at $640 an hour and former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard and his firm DLA Piper at $50,000 a month.

Contact David Jesse: 313-222-8851 or djesse@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter: @reporterdavidj