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Mediation Eyed In Richard Strauss Lawsuit

Aerial view of The Oval on Ohio State University's campus
Ohio State University
Ohio State University

Attorneys for Ohio State and the men accusing a former team doctor of sexual assault met in court for the first time Thursday.

The hearing set aside questions of discovery or dismissal for a later day, and laid the ground work for mediation.

The university argues the case should be dropped because the offenses alleged by the late Dr. Richard Strauss fall outside the statute of limitations.

However Rex Sharpe, who represents the class action against the school, contends that clock shouldn’t have started until accusers knew there was a broader pattern of abuse.

“The wrestlers didn’t know that the track and field group were being molested, and the students didn’t know that the athletes were being molested, and everybody was cordoned off from everyone else,” Sharpe says. “The school did not come forward and do the right thing and we’re looking forward to mediating with them.”

An investigation by Seattle law firm Perkins Coie found 150 first-hand accounts of misconduct by Strauss, who worked at Ohio State from the 1970s-90s and also maintained an off-campus clinic.

Judge Michael Watson of the U.S. District Court in Southern Ohio is presiding over the case, and one of the first things he told the attorneys is that he serves occasionally as an adjunct professor at Ohio State. However Jack Landskroner, an attorney representing some of the individual plaintiffs in the case, says he’s not concerned about the judge’s impartiality.

“I think that almost everybody in city of Columbus has some connection to Ohio State University in some capacity,” he says. “And I think in many instances like most of our clients they bleed scarlet and grey.”

Judge Watson plans to model the mediation effort on the Detroit municipal bankruptcy case, in which one magistrate oversaw the work of multiple mediators. He’s asking both sides to recommend mediators for the case.

Sharpe warns once mediation actually begins, it’s unlikely a decision will come quickly.

“I would expect this is going to take a considerable number of months to get it completed,” Sharpe explained. “There are so many people who have been injured through the conduct of OSU that it’s just going to take a while to get through all of those people.”

In an emailed statement, Ohio State special counsel Mike Carpenter wrote, "We appreciate the court’s care and attention to this matter. Under the court’s established processes, we welcome mediation and will confer and bring forward to the court a recommendation for a mediator."

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.