Ohio State and accusers of sexual abuse from former Ohio State doctor Richard Strauss have missed another deadline to agree on a mediator, according to court documents from the Southern District Court of Ohio.
The two sides were given an extension to reach an agreed mediator by March 12, this past Tuesday, after missing the first proposed date of Feb. 16, set by Judge Michael H. Watson. Watson originally requested the sides find a mediator after issuing to hold both Ohio State’s motion to dismiss on statute of limitation grounds and its motion to stay discovery.
The plaintiffs have proposed mediators experienced in handling large scale sexual abuse cases, and have rejected the names offered from Ohio State on the grounds of a lack of experience.
The plaintiffs have “sought the best and most experienced mediators for mass sexual abuse,” Scott Smith, one of the attorneys for the Strauss accusers, said, and it is “sort of a mystery” why Ohio State will not agree to any of the choices. Though Ohio State has selected experienced mediators, Smith said they “just don’t fit the bill.”
“If you’re going to be in construction, you don’t hire an expert plumber to do what an expert electrician needs to do,” Smith said.
Smith said that while he does not speak for the court, he speculates that if a mediator is not agreed upon, the court will have to appoint the mediator itself.
In the joint notice, the plaintiffs proposed Judge Diane Welsh of JAMS, a professional mediation company, crediting her with resolving more than 5,000 complex cases and with experience handling Title IX claims. They had previously named Kenneth Feinberg, who handled the mediation of the Penn State sexual abuse claims involving former football coach Jerry Sandusky, and U.S. District Judge Layn Phillips, who handled the Michigan State case involving Larry Nassar.
Ohio State rejected Welsh after “engaging in its own work product due diligence,” the notice read. It also reiterated it still rejects Feinberg and Phillips, having previously said that Penn State “resulted in controversy” after a settlement was reached though Feinberg was not to blame. Ohio State rejected Phillips on the grounds that a mediator needs to have a “fresh perspective” on the facts of the case and that Phillips is not in a position to do that having handled the Michigan State case.
As a counter, Ohio State proposed Robert Hanson, a local Columbus attorney, who Ohio State said has practiced law for more than 40 years and has experience mediating cases of sexual abuse “involving school employees and/or doctors,” the notice said.
“Ohio State has proposed three excellent mediators: Robert Hanson from Columbus, Retired Chief Judge James Holderman from Chicago and Chief Sixth Circuit Mediator Paul Calico,” Ohio State spokesman Ben Johnson said in an email. “We would welcome the court’s appointment of any of these three candidates to mediate this matter.”
The plaintiffs rejected Hanson, arguing that while he is a “highly respected part-time mediator,” he does not have any “meaningful experience” handling class-action lawsuits or cases handling sexual abuse.
Holderman and Calico were both rejected by the plaintiffs on similar grounds, with court documents showing the accusers believed neither had experience handling sexual abuse cases in the past.
“We appreciate the court’s care and attention to this matter, remain committed to the mediation process, and will continue to work with the court on its efforts to find pathways of resolution,” Michael H. Carpenter, attorney for the defendants, said in a statement.
Ohio State first opened an investigation into sexual abuse claims against Strauss in April 2018, after learning Strauss might have abused student-athletes throughout his tenure at the university from 1978 to 1998. The alleged abuse occured during his role as team physician and while he worked as a doctor at student health services, as well as at an off-campus clinic from 1996 to 1998.
Strauss died by suicide in 2005.
Porter Wright was appointed to serve as Ohio State’s legal counsel for the investigation by then-attorney general Mike DeWine, and originally hired Bricker & Eckler to lead the investigation before a conflict forced them to turn to Perkins Coie. In a recent interview with The Lantern, University President Michael Drake said he expects the investigation to end in “six to eight weeks.”
In its latest update in November, Perkins Coie said it had interviewed 150 former students and student-athletes with first-hand knowledge of Strauss’ abuse.
Carpenter Lipps & Leland has served as Ohio State’s legal representative in any matters of litigation.