Debevoise & Plimpton partner Mary Jo White is in demand.
Ohio State University has put her in charge of a probe into whether football coach Urban Meyer overlooked reports of an assistant’s alleged domestic assault, just days after CBS tapped her as a co-leader of an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by CEO Leslie Moonves.
Ohio State announced Sunday that White would lead the investigation into Meyer’s conduct, an expedited procedure that is expected to be completed in two weeks.
Meyer, who has coached Ohio State to one national championship since coming to the university in 2012, was put on paid administrative leave Aug. 1 in the wake of a report that wide receivers coach Zach Smith had assaulted his wife in 2015. Meyer swiftly fired Smith and denied prior awareness of the incident after the news became public, but further reporting suggested that Courtney Smith had detailed the alleged abuse to several Ohio State staffers’ wives, including Meyer’s.
The university’s Board of Trustees convened an independent working group to oversee the investigation. They met for the first time last week and engaged White, a former U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission chair who leads Debevoise’s strategic crisis response and solutions group.
The working group is chaired by former Ohio House of Representatives Speaker Jo Ann Davidson. It includes former acting U.S. Deputy Attorney General Craig Morford, who now serves as chief legal and compliance officer for Cardinal Health, and former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Carter Stewart, now a managing director of the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, along with three trustees.
“Ohio State is committed to a thorough and complete investigation,” Davidson said. “We look forward to sharing the results of this investigation and any action the university may take.”
Meyer’s future as the football coach of the university hangs in the balance. Under an April contract extension, he reportedly is entitled to a $38 million payment if he is terminated without cause, but can be fired with cause for failing to report violations of the university’s sexual misconduct policy. That encompasses domestic violence involving staff.
Ohio State is getting uncomfortably familiar with hiring outside counsel to deal with sexual abuse and domestic violence allegations. Earlier this year, it began investigating reports that former wrestling team doctor Richard Strauss had abused as many as 1,500 victims. Some alleged on NBC News that Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives who served as an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State from 1987 to 1995, knew about the abuse at the time.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office appointed Columbus-based Porter Wright Morris & Arthur to advise the university. Porter Wright, in turn, hired the Chicago office of Perkins Coie to conduct an internal investigation, which is ongoing. The Columbus Dispatch reported in July that out of a total of $7.77 million in special counsel expenses approved for the university by the state Attorney General’s Office in the upcoming year, Porter Wright would receive $500,000, plus an additional $75,000 for the special investigation into Strauss.
Meanwhile, White’s recent roster of investigations includes both sports teams and universities. Earlier this year she completed a probe into Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, which substantiated employees’ reports that he made significant monetary settlements with them in exchange for their silence over sexually and racially inappropriate comments. Richardson sold the team shortly afterwards.
In an investigation into the University of Rochester’s handling of a sexual harassment controversy involving a cognitive sciences professor, White and a Debevoise team inadvertently disclosed the names of confidential witnesses in their long-awaited report on the scandal.