MLIVE — MASON, MI – Ten people, including a former University of Michigan football team captain, are suing the university for alleged violations of the Open Meetings Act at Board of Regents meetings.
The lawsuit, filed in Ingham County Circuit Court in Mason on Thursday, Sept. 9, accuses UM of limiting the ability of survivors of sexual abuse by former athletic doctor Robert Anderson to speak at regents’ meetings. The current speaker limit is five people per topic, according to UM policy.
One of the plaintiffs is Henry Hill, a Wolverine defensive tackle and first-team All-American in 1970. Hill, nine other survivors s and their attorneys argue the limit on speakers is a form of censorship on language that tarnishes UM’s image.
“The university is again attempting to suggest that they’re above the law,” said Hill’s attorney Parker Stinar, who is also in mediation with UM in the federal court case involving nearly 900 Anderson survivors.
“These individuals submitted their request in a timely manner and were denied. Simply, (the university) said that they limit the numbers of speakers per topic to five. That’s a clear violation of the Open Meetings Act.”
As this is a separate lawsuit from the federal case, Stinar said Ingham County was the appropriate venue for an initial claims lawsuit against the regents of a public university.
The Board of Regents has the authority to establish rules for public comment, UM Spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said. The UM policy is “consistent with those at other Michigan public universities,” Fitzgerald said.
“Anderson survivors have regularly been among the members of the public addressing the board, including as recently as the July board meeting when five Anderson survivors addressed the board,” Fitzgerald said. “Additionally, each week the university and members of the Board of Regents receive and carefully review a significant number of email messages and other correspondence from individuals who bring issues to the attention of university leaders.”
Michigan law states that “a rule limiting the period of public comment may not be applied in a manner that denies a person the right to address the public body,” according to an Open Meetings Act handbook by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.
The UM policy “explicitly allows defendants to prescreen and potentially censor speakers from whom (the regents) might not wish to hear, such as members of the public who may be dissatisfied with (the regents),” according to the complaint.
The next regents meeting is Sept. 23. The lawsuit requests the court force UM to allow more speakers to address sexual abuse with the regents at future meetings.
Hill is is one of the hundreds of survivors who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit against UM over its handling of Anderson’s sexual abuse. There are currently more than 100 Anderson-related lawsuits against UM.
The survivors accuse Anderson, who worked for at UM nearly four decades before retiring in 2003, of performing unnecessary hernia and prostate exams on them. The survivors also allege Anderson in some cases fondled their genitals during routine physicals.
Read more about the Robert Anderson case here.