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Posted on Wed, Mar 28, 2012 : 4 p.m.

U-M general counsel to resign and return to faculty position at law school

By Kyle Feldscher

Suellyn Scarnecchia, a vice president and the general counsel of the University of Michigan, will leave her position as of May 31, university officials confirmed Wednesday.

Spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said Scarnecchia will return to the University of Michigan Law School as a faculty member.


Suellyn Scarnecchia

Fitzgerald emphasized Scarnecchia’s decision was her own and not related to the controversy involving a lawyer within the Office of the General Counsel who did not notify police of the child pornography found on U-M Hospital resident physician Stephen Jenson’s computer.

“This really has nothing to do with the Jenson case,” Fitzgerald said. “Suellyn has a key position in handling the university’s response to that case. (University) President (Mary Sue) Coleman has asked her to stay on as special counsel to the president, specifically so she can remain a part of the response to the Jenson case moving forward.”

Debra Kowich, an associate general counsel at the university, will take over as interim general counsel on June 1, Fitzgerald said.

Scarnecchia became the vice president and general counsel of the university in June 2008. The general counsel advises Coleman, the university’s Board of Regents and the university’s executive officers on legal issues. The general counsel also manages the Central Campus, Health System, Technology Transfer and Development offices of the general counsel.

Scarnecchia was a faculty member at the University of Michigan Law School for 16 years, serving as associate dean for clinical affairs and teaching in the Child Advocacy Law Clinic, according to the university. She has a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University and a law degree from the University of Michigan.

Coleman sent an email to some university employees announcing Scarnecchia's departure on Friday, praising her work on the football program's NCAA case, the university's trespass policy and the Jenson case. Coleman said she'll personally miss Scarnecchia's help, but will continue to have Scarnecchia advise her until May 2013 to help resolve the Jenson case.

"While our students in the classroom and the Human Trafficking Clinic will benefit immensely from her knowledge and range of experiences," Coleman said, "I will miss her wise counsel and steady leadership in the general counsel’s office during the past four years."

Coleman said a national search for a permanent replacement will take place and a committee will be appointed shortly.

The Office of the General Counsel came under fire after Susan Kay Balkema, an attorney in the University of Michigan Health System’s Office of the General Counsel, led an investigation into child pornography found on Jenson’s computer. According to the university’s internal review, attorneys from the office informed the health system’s chief compliance officer in June 2011 there was not enough evidence to bring the case forward to police, leading to a six-month delay in the investigation during which Jenson continued to see patients.

In December, Jenson was arrested and charged with four counts of possessing child sexually abusive material. He was fired in late December and is now facing federal charges of receipt of child pornography and possession of child pornography. The state charges have been dropped.

Kyle Feldscher covers cops and courts for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.



Thu, Mar 29, 2012 : 3:30 p.m.

So why is she on the faculty?


Fri, Mar 30, 2012 : 5:17 p.m.

Because she's a good professor.


Thu, Mar 29, 2012 : 2:26 p.m.

Just deserts. Served cold, and sweetened with cash. But can Kowich lead?


Thu, Mar 29, 2012 : 11:39 a.m.

By the way, appointing her as a "special advisor to the President" is a way to justify continuing to pay her current salary even though she is demoted. Can you spell "hush money".


Thu, Mar 29, 2012 : 2:12 a.m.

Scarnecchia being name a vice president and general counsel of the University of Michigan is an obvious example of The Peter Principle: An employee will rise to his or her level of incompetence. Hopefully she is an adequate educator and her future students do not suffer from her leadership failings. BTW Roadman, nice piece of trivia. Thanks.

Eugene Daneshvar

Thu, Mar 29, 2012 : 1:57 a.m.

It could have been because of my case actually: I emailed her to ask for an investigation as well. Too bad this topic isn't important enough for to cover it.

Eugene Daneshvar

Fri, Mar 30, 2012 : 12:24 a.m.

Thank you all for your comments. The record will show that I have tried for almost two years to get help within the all University channels available to me. My public statements now only come because of the many negative effects this prolonged injustice has been ignored leading to more retaliation. I don't wish for anything else other than an investigation be done, accountability be held, compensation for damages, and abatement of obstruction on my research and progress. As an alum, doctoral student, and educator, I am fulfilling my obligation to being a "leader and best" through example by standing up for what's right.


Thu, Mar 29, 2012 : 4:15 p.m.

à la Scarnecchia:


Thu, Mar 29, 2012 : 2:08 p.m.

A nightmare! Very sorry for your dreadful experience. You are not alone. Hope you know who in the gc's office has their fingerprint on this theft. Just deserts are in order for DRK and all accomplices.


Thu, Mar 29, 2012 : 11:37 a.m.

@just curious- Her job is actually to keep the UM out of trouble not just defend them afterwards. She has failed at that job. For example she was warned long before the ACLU got involved about the trespass policy but she did not even attempt to fix it until UM got in trouble for it. Cases like Eugene's are common at the UM because she did not protect everyone's rights at UM but only whom ever was higher in the hierarchy. @Eugene- There are many in the whistle blower community who may be able to give you some assistance. I will try to contact you.


Thu, Mar 29, 2012 : 10:59 a.m.

Eugene, her job is to defend the U, not find anything wrong with them.


Wed, Mar 28, 2012 : 9:50 p.m.

The U of M certainly is all about protecting their own. Sometimes, to a fault.

Kyle Feldscher

Wed, Mar 28, 2012 : 9:02 p.m.

I've updated this story with the correct spelling of Debra Kowich's name and thoughts from Mary Sue Coleman.


Wed, Mar 28, 2012 : 8:59 p.m.

She was known in the 1990s for losing the Baby Jessica case in the Michigan Supreme Court to another Ann Arbor attorney. The case inspired the book "Losing Jessica" by her clients. . I have to believe that the Jenson controversy played some role in her leaning the General Counsel position.


Thu, Mar 29, 2012 : 5:24 p.m.

very good comments. Here is clear case of where the courts overreached their bounds. I know where the the Ann arbor News was on that story.


Thu, Mar 29, 2012 : 12:01 a.m.

Roadman, yes Marion Faupel did an amazing job for the Schmidts. The DeBoer side called her a pit bull. The movie they made was ridiculous and disgraceful. It purposely made the Schmidts look like hillbillies with hubcaps actually nailed to a trailer porch railing. Unbelievable malice.

Michigan Reader

Wed, Mar 28, 2012 : 10:30 p.m.

@Roadman--Judge William Alger held an elected position, and I think also had some feeling for the defendants. He said he did what he thought was right, but that didn't include following the law on the books.


Wed, Mar 28, 2012 : 10:08 p.m.

@Michigan Reader: I agree the MSC made the right decision, but remember the DeBoers won in the trial court in Washtenaw County and one justice sided with the DeBoers in the high court - so it was far from a slam dunk for the Schmidts. Much credit for the Schmidt's victory goes to Marianne Faupel, their lawyer, who still practices in Ann Arbor and whose arguments and advocacy garnered her national attention.


Wed, Mar 28, 2012 : 9:38 p.m.

Yes, she was the person who kept Anna from her rightful parents for over two years. Anna is now doing fine and is happy and doing great.

Michigan Reader

Wed, Mar 28, 2012 : 9:22 p.m.

She lost the Baby Jessica case, but not through any fault of her own. The law was on the side of the Schmidt's.


Wed, Mar 28, 2012 : 9:17 p.m.

Totally agree with the last statement. Someone who only started the position in 2008 steps down to go back to faculty and take a pay cut at this level does so for a reason, most likely in part, for her role in the Jenson controversy. I would bet she leaves UM for greener pastures in the next year, and probably stepped down with the agreement that she will get a positive reference for her next job.