University President Mark Schlissel and the Board of Regents announced in a statement Saturday that the school would cease to work with an attorney at the law firm Steptoe and Johnson LLP. The firm had been hired to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct against the late University doctor Robert E. Anderson, but the University decided to switch its legal representation after learning the firm has worked for high-profile clients accused of sexual misconduct. The University of Michigan is continuing the investigation with a different law firm.
As of Sunday, the University has not yet disclosed the name of the firm it will move forward within the investigation.
Steptoe and Johnson represented the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and convicted child rapist Roman Polanksi.
The statement described how the University has tried to encourage survivors to come forward.
“Throughout the investigation of Dr. Anderson, we have sought to provide a safe and secure environment for survivors to share their stories,” the statement reads. “It is imperative that we continue to provide resources to support the survivors who bravely share their truth.”
The statement also outlined how the University has conducted the investigation thus far with the help of an attorney with Steptoe and Johnson.
“To help us in this investigation, we hired an attorney because of his expertise, integrity, and experience, including his twelve years as a federal prosecutor whose job was to investigate complex, historical matters and bring facts to light, particularly in public corruption cases,” the statement reads. “He and his team already have significantly moved this investigation forward.”
The statement goes on to acknowledge how the University was informed about previous clients that Steptoe and Johnson represented. The statement does not name Steptoe and Johnson, nor does it name the clients in question.
“Over the past few days we have become aware that a different set of attorneys in a different branch of this multinational firm once represented prominent clients who were accused of sexual misconduct,” the statement reads. “After consulting with survivors, we have determined that this could discourage survivors hurt by Dr. Anderson from coming forward.”
John Manly, an attorney for three men who publicly accused Anderson of sexual assault at a press conference Thursday, responded to the statement on Twitter. According to Manly, the University learned Steptoe and Johnson LLP previously defended Epstein and Polanski after he and Sarah Klein, an attorney who accused disgraced Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar of sexual misconduct, tweeted about it. Nassar, who hundreds of women have accused of sexual abuse over several decades, was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for sexual abuse in 2018.
“Steptoe is out,” Manly wrote. “Apparently none of the Regents or the President bothered to run a simple Google search like we did. I found the Polanski/Epstein connection in less than 5 minutes. Also to be clear Michigan learned this from my post & @SG_Klein’s.”
Klein disclosed these previous clients on Twitter Friday, linking to a previous post by Manly.
“When a survivor of @UMich Dr. Anderson calls the hotline they are speaking to lawyers who represented Polanski and Epstein,” Klein wrote. “The results of their ‘independent investigation’ should be interesting.”
Reporter Arjun Thakkar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.