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Ohio State Argues With Richard Strauss Accusers Over Mediation

A group of former Ohio State students detail their stories of alleged sexual abuse by Richard Strauss, a longtime sports doctor, before the Ohio State Board of Trustees on November 16.
Paige Pfleger
/
WOSU
A group of former Ohio State students detail their stories of sexual abuse by Richard Strauss, a longtime sports doctor, before the Ohio State Board of Trustees on November 16.

The Ohio State University and former students are clashing over who should mediate a decades-spanning sexual abuse case.

Longtime team doctor Richard Strauss is accused of abusing at least 150 students across three decades. Several class-action lawsuits have come forward against the university for failing to take action against Strauss, who died in 2005.

Attorneys for the accusers say the court should turn to one of two mediators with experience handling sexual assault cases to settle the dispute. They’ve suggested former federal judge Layn Phillips, who handled the Larry Nassar case out of Michigan State University, and Kenneth Feinberg, a lawyer who oversaw the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State University.

Ohio State contends both are tainted by their respective experiences, but its objections are vague. In opposing Feinberg, the school points to lingering controversy at Penn State, despite admitting in the brief, “Ohio State does not state the issues were of Mr. Feinberg’s doing, it simply points out that the process used created controversy.”

In its objection to Phillips, Ohio State’s lawyers cite the judge’s eagerness to approach the Strauss case differently than the one at Michigan State.

“To bring a fresh perspective to the unique facts and circumstances of this litigation, which differ from those presented in the Michigan State University situation, Ohio State strongly believes someone not personally involved in mediating the Michigan State University situation would be best,” they write.

Lawyers for the accusers argue they understood the judge was attempting to avoid administrators refusing to accept responsibility.

They argue Ohio State’s proposed mediators—former federal judge James Holderman and Sixth Circuit Appeals Court mediator Paul Calico—are competent, but not right for the case. Neither have experience with sexual assault class actions, they say, and this case shouldn’t serve as “training ground.”

They note when Ohio State hired the law firm Perkins Coie “to investigate the sex abuse at OSU, OSU wanted and insisted on an experienced group. It is puzzling that OSU refuses to consent to the only two mediators suggested that have both sex abuse mediation experience and have ever reached a mediated settlement in a university sex abuse class case.”

Attorneys for the accusers are also asking the judge to grant them access to documents ahead of mediation including medial and student records, any complaints about Strauss made to the State Medical Board, and the report prepared by Perkins Coie.

University lawyers argue the mediator should decide what information to share, and mediation can start without trading documents. They’re pushing for negotiations to begin in March.

In a letter to alumni Friday night, Ohio State president Michael Drake announced the school will cover counseling for former students abused by Strauss. Ohio State is working through a separate organization, Praesidium, to facilitate the services.

“Praesidium has extensive experience in providing confidential support services to survivors of sexual misconduct,” Drake wrote in the letter. “No contact with the university will be required.”

He explains the program will offer support similar to what current students receive, but if recipients need additional help, the school and Praesidium will work to ensure it’s available.

The school is sending Drake’s letter to roughly 115,000 alumni who attended Ohio State during Strauss’ tenure which spanned from the 1970s to 1990s. Perkins Coie is reaching out separately to the more 150 former students who have leveled accusations against the former doctor.