The Michigan State University Board of Trustees should put aside hundreds of millions of dollars to compensate victims of former doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse and stop fighting to dismiss the lawsuits brought by Nassar’s survivors, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said Saturday.
Calley, an MSU alumnus who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, spoke out about the crisis at MSU for the first time in an interview with the Free Press.
Calley said he welcomed the apologies MSU trustees offered at a board meeting Friday, along with promises to take a new approach to dealing with the sex abuse scandal, but said: “I strongly encourage swift action that demonstrates a clear commitment to a dramatic shift in priorities.”
That should include establishing a victim compensation fund, which “will likely need hundreds of millions of dollars,” and giving instructions to MSU attorneys to “drop all attempts to dismiss lawsuits” brought by victims, and instead push for the lawsuits to be sent to mediation for settlements, he said.
Jason Cody, an MSU spokesman, could not immediately be reached for comment Saturday.
Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to go public with a sexual assault allegation against Nassar, after complaining to MSU police in 2016, said she agrees with Calley’s recommendations.
She told the Free Press Saturday she is grateful Calley supports doing “what is right” over “institutional protectionism.”
The comments from Calley, a close ally and adviser to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, could ramp up pressure on the MSU Board of Trustees after Snyder signaled Friday he is considering unspecified action against the trustees, which could include formal inquiries aimed at removing them from office.
However, the legal position Calley advocates for MSU is in stark contrast to the position the State of Michigan has taken on lawsuits brought in recent years in both the Flint water crisis and the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency false fraud scandal. In both of those cases the state has aggressively fought lawsuits every step of the way and has attempted -- sometimes successfully -- to have lawsuits dismissed.
"It's very ironic," said Royal Oak attorney Jennifer Lord, whose firm represents plaintiffs suing the state in cases related to both the lead contamination of Flint's drinking water and the close to 40,000 Michigan residents who applied for jobless benefits and were falsely accused of fraud and financially punished by a state computer system run amok.
"Everyone would be well-served for the state to take its own advice so the victims of these state-created harms can get a hearing," Lord said.
"It's the right thing to do at MSU, and it's the right thing to do for the citizens of Flint and the individuals falsely accused of fraud."
Calley didn't give a direct answer when asked why he's advocating mediation for MSU when the state continues to try to get the Flint lawsuits thrown out of court. But he said the state has appropriated close to $300 million to help Flint since the water crisis began and MSU should have quickly appropriated a similar sum to help Nassar's victims.
He said it is particularly wrong for MSU to seek to dismiss victim lawsuits based on the statute of limitations, because it is not uncommon for sexual assault victims to not feel ready to come forward for extended time periods.
As for the unemployment insurance false fraud debacle, "I just don't think it's appropriate to compare sexual assault to unemployment claims cases," he said.
Nassar, who worked for MSU and with USA Gymnastics for 20 years, was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison Wednesday on seven charges of sexual assault, six of which occurred at MSU. His seven-day sentencing hearing included emotional statements from 156 women and girls who described the abuse they suffered from Nassar, under the guise of treatment.
Amid a flurry of investigations, MSU's athletic director, Mark Hollis, announced his retirement Friday after MSU President Lou Anna Simon announced her resignation Wednesday night.
Calley said he welcomes the investigation into MSU by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette -- which Schuette spoke about at a Saturday news conference in Lansing, where he said he would be assisted in the investigation by the Michigan State Police.
Retired Kent County prosecutor William Forsyth, who Schuette named to lead the investigation, is "independent, tough, and holds the highest ethical and professional standards," Calley said.
"All decisions, including those made by previous investigators -- like the botched Title IX investigation -- need to be examined," Calley said.
MSU received a 2014 complaint about alleged sexual abuse by Nassar under Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972, which is designed to protect students from gender discrimination. The investigation, conducted by MSU officials, cleared Nassar.
Calley said the board must "make justice and healing for the survivors the top priority."
Justice and healing should be put "ahead of MSU, ahead of liability concerns, ahead of insurance company requirements," he said.
That should be the "measuring stick" used to assess all actions, including those taken by MSU attorneys, he said. "Does this advance the interests of the victims?'
The board should also "take transparent actions to protect current and future students," Calley said.
"The only way the public will ever have confidence that this will never happen again is for them to be confident that they know exactly what happened," he said. "An open and complete independent investigation, available for public scrutiny, is required."
►Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the WZZM 13 app now.