Federal judge orders mediation in cases against Larry Nassar

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Attorneys representing 125 women who are suing disgraced former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar have agreed to take the cases to mediation, a step that could ultimately result in a settlement.

The plaintiffs are also suing USA Gymnastics; Nassar's former employer, Michigan State University; and other defendants. Attorneys have said more women are expected to join the lawsuits.

At a hearing in federal court in Grand Rapids on Wednesday morning, Judge Gordon Quist issued an order suspending litigation in the case and ordering the 18 lawyers in attendance and the various parties they represent to go to mediation for a period of 90 days, starting 14 days from the order.

"I hope that this leads to a reasonable settlement for all of our collective plaintiffs, so they can move on with their lives," said Mick Grewal, an attorney who represents 31 women who claim they were sexually abused by Nassar during the course of medical treatments.

"If it doesn't lead to a settlement, it will expedite the litigation process because we are exchanging information that will assist us," Grewal added.

At one point during Wednesday's hearing, attorneys for USA Gymnastics argued that litigation should continue while the parties await mediation and that any settlement involving USA Gymnastics, if it occurs, should remain confidential.

Nassar had been involved with USAG for nearly three decades, first as a trainer and then, starting in 1996, as national medical coordinator, a role that led him to treat the country's elite gymnasts at four separate Olympic Games.

Judge Quist informed attorneys Wednesday that any settlement would be public, a move welcomed by plaintiffs' attorneys, who say the alleged victims deserve transparency.

"You can't say you care about athletes and then jam confidentiality down their throats," said John Manly, who is one of three attorneys representing 89 women who are suing Nassar, Michigan State, USA Gymnastics and others.

"When I hear an organization talk about confidential sex abuse settlements, I find that very troubling," Manly added.

"USA Gymnastics welcomes the opportunity to participate in mediation and has not taken any position regarding whether any settlement should be confidential," said Leslie King, a spokeswoman for USAG.

An MSU spokesman declined to comment on the pending mediation when contacted by ESPN.

If the mediation results in a financial settlement for the 125 female plaintiffs, Grewal said, it could be comparable to, or exceed, the per-person amount paid to the more than 30 men who said they were sexually abused by former Penn State University defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. In that case, Penn State paid nearly $93 million to Sandusky's accusers.

Manly said Wednesday that any resolution of the case should balance three key components:

  • Policy changes at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics that ensure this type of abuse can never happen again;

  • Disclosure of the documents in the case, so the victims and public can have confidence in the transparency of organizations charged with protecting young people;

  • A fair financial settlement that reflects what a jury would reward victims.

Nassar has already pleaded guilty to federal child pornography charges and awaits a Nov. 27 sentencing in that case.

He also faces charges in state court in Michigan, largely related to women who say he digitally penetrated them during medical exams for his own sexual gratification. If convicted on any one of the 22 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, Nassar could receive life in prison.

In the past, Nassar and his attorneys have defended the intra-vaginal and intra-rectal treatments as accepted medical procedures. Nassar's attorney, Matt Newburg, declined to comment on Wednesday's ruling.