U-M hires WilmerHale to handle Robert E. Anderson investigation


The WilmerHale law firm will take over the independent investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct regarding the late Robert E. Anderson, who worked as a physician for the University of Michigan for decades starting in the 1960s, according to a review of available records. He stopped working at the university in 2003 and died in 2008.

WilmerHale is conducting a similar investigation into sexual misconduct allegations made against former provost Martin Philbert. The Anderson investigation was initially launched by the Steptoe & Johnson law firm. The university decided to make a change March 7.

The announcement was made March 24 on behalf of the university’s Board of Regents by Regent Denise Ilitch, vice chair of the board.

The university asked WilmerHale to conduct the Anderson investigation in addition to the Philbert matter because attorneys with the firm have developed a deep understanding of relevant university policies and procedures. In addition, although each matter is entirely separate and distinct, the matters may present certain common questions about university policies and procedures. 

Regent Ron Weiser, board chair, thanked Steptoe & Johnson for its excellent work in launching the Anderson investigation. He said he was confident there would be a seamless handoff to WilmerHale, which will begin its work immediately. He said WilmerHale would have no role in defending the university against any lawsuits that may be filed in either matter.

President Mark Schlissel reiterated his comments from March 7 noting that the university would continue to “provide a safe and secure environment for survivors to share their stories … and continue to provide resources to support the survivors who bravely share their truth.”

Ilitch emphasized that the university is fully committed to allowing WilmerHale to conduct vigorous and independent investigations in both matters. The engagement letter with WilmerHale specifies that the firm will “issue a non-privileged report” at the conclusion of the investigations.

Those reports will be released by the firm to the public at the same time they are released to the university. There is no specific timeline for the completion of either investigation.

The investigations will proceed under attorney-client privilege to protect the confidentiality of all sexual misconduct survivors and witnesses.

WilmerHale partners Aaron Zebley and Danielle Conley, who work out of the firm’s Washington, D.C., office, will oversee both investigations.

Zebley is a former federal prosecutor and FBI agent with more than 18 years of experience at the U.S. Department of Justice. Before rejoining WilmerHale in 2019, Zebley served as the deputy special counsel under Special Counsel Robert Mueller for the duration of the office’s investigation of Russian government efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Zebley’s practice focuses on investigations and national security matters. 

Conley focuses her practice on high-stakes investigations and litigation involving the federal government, as well as other multifaceted legal challenges spanning law, government policy and business. She also regularly conducts sensitive internal investigations for companies and nonprofit organizations regarding allegations of sexual misconduct.

The university has established separate hotlines for each investigation:

  • Anderson: Call 855-336-5900. The call center is staffed Monday-Friday, 7 a.m.-5 p.m.; email: UofM@wilmerhale.com
  • Philbert: Call 866-990-0111. The Compliance Hotline is staffed 24/7; email: UofM@wilmerhale.com

Additionally, the university is partnering with Praesidium, a national firm with extensive experience facilitating confidential and sensitive support services, to facilitate free, confidential counseling to individuals affected by this alleged misconduct. Individuals are encouraged to contact Praesidium at 888-961-9273 to learn more about how to access confidential counseling resources available in their local area.


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