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University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel no longer has to appear in court for a settlement conference in a civil lawsuit filed by a former student accused of sexual assault, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday.
The decision from the 6th Circuit appeals panel, which was tasked with deciding whether Schlissel should appear, determined that U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow had overstepped his discretion by demanding Schlissel’s presence at the settlement conference.
The lawsuit involves a former University student who was accused of sexually assaulting another student on Nov. 11, 2017. The former student said his future was jeopardized when the University froze his transcript and degree following the sexual assault complaint, and claimed the University violated his due process rights through its sexual misconduct investigation and hearing policy.
Tarnow had initially ordered Schlissel to appear in court during a pretrial meeting on May 1. University officials argued that Schlissel’s presence was unnecessary, claiming he was not the primary authority for the sexual misconduct investigation policy. Tarnow said even if Schlissel isn’t directly involved with the policy, he’s the one who ultimately has to approve policy changes.
Schlissel was slated to attend the hearing on Jun. 11, 2019 until the University appealed the order and delayed the proceedings. Tarnow responded to the delay by accusing University officials of worrying more about protecting Schlissel than properly managing cases regarding sexual misconduct against students.
Circuit Judge Amul Thapar, one of the three judges who sat on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals’ panel, felt Tarnow’s reasons for requiring Schlissel’s presence were “not valid.”
“He insisted that the president attend the conference because the president had a duty to explain University policy to his constituents,” Thapar wrote in his opinion. “That is not a valid reason.”
Circuit Judge John Rogers, who also sat on the panel, concurred with the decision.
“Ordering the presence of the University president at an on-the-record settlement conference-for reasons not clearly related to obtaining a settlement-amounts to an abuse of discretion, as we hold,” the opinion read.
University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen expressed the University’s support for the decision.
“We’re pleased that the Sixth Circuit intervened in this matter and ruled in favor of our view,” Broekhuizen wrote in an email statement to The Daily.