Nassar seeks resentencing, alleges bias by Aquilina

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News
Larry Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in prison on federal child pornography charges and up to 175 years by state courts on sex abuse charges.

Larry Nassar, the infamous sexual predator from Michigan State University, is seeking new prison sentence after he was given a de facto life term by judges in three separate courts where he admitted guilt.

Nassar is also trying to make sure Ingham County Judge Rosemarie Aquilina is not part of the process. 

In court documents filed Tuesday, attorneys from the State Appellate Defender's Office filed two motions in Ingham County Circuit Court, seeking to disqualify Aquilina, arguing that she was not impartial when she gave Nassar a 40-175-year sentence, according to the court documents.

The motion seeks a new sentence that runs concurrently with the 60-year federal sentence that Nassar is serving in the United State Penitentiary, Tucson, a high security prison in Arizona, for possessing child pornography.

"We do not feel the sentencing took place before a fair sentencing judge and we think that is part of Dr. Nassar's right to due process to appear before a court that is fair and impartial, even through sentencing," said Malaika Ramsey-Heath, one of Nassar's attorneys who met with him earlier this month in the Arizona prison. "Judge Aquilina has indicated that she was not and cannot be fair and impartial."

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina

Reached via email, Aquilina declined to comment.

"After the appeal period I’ll talk," Aquilina wrote. "I have no comment."

One of Nassar's victims, Jessica Smith, criticized his moves.

"The further we get in the legal process of sentencing Nassar, the more apparent it is on how manipulative he will try to be - even from prison," said Jessica Smith, founder of #MeTooMSU. "What he fails to recognize is that we are Survivors now- he cannot reach us. Judge Aquilina’s role in that personal change of transitioning from victim to survivor is very important to many, including myself."

Meanwhile, a Georgia-based attorney, Amy Lee Copeland, filed a motion in late May for a resentencing of Nassar's federal conviction for possessing child pornography.

The first court hearing in the Ingham County case will be held at 10 a.m. Aug. 3 , according to Aquilina, and will address whether she should preside over the motion for a resentencing there.

Ramsey-Heath said Nassar's attorneys are seeking the motion in part because of Aquilina's "bias" during a seven-day hearing in January when the judge gave Nassar his sentence of 40-175 years in prison for criminal sexual conduct involving young women, many of them gymnasts, while they were his patients.

In the court documents, Ramsey-Heath and attorney Jacqueline McCann argue that Aquilina made numerous statements during the hearing, in which more than 150 women gave victim impact statements, that indicated "she had already decided to impose the maximum allowed by the sentence agreement even before the sentencing hearing began." 

The sentencing agreement, reached after Nassar pleaded guilty to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct, called for a minimum sentence of 25 to 40 years. Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of 40 to 125 years. 

Aquilina used the hearing, which was reported on around the world, to advance her agenda of advocacy for state and national policy initiatives and culture change around sexual discrimination and gender inequity, according to the court documents. They court pleadings also imply that Aquilina's handling of the hearing contributed to a climate where Nassar was assaulted during his Eaton County sentencing hearing and again recently in federal prison.

After Aquilina sentenced Nassar in January, according to the court documents, the judge said she would not grant any press interviews until the appeal period had expired but she gave an interview to The Detroit News, saying she supports Nassar's victims. The court documents also say Aquilina went to Los Angeles for the ESPY awards, where nearly 150 young women who accused Nassar accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

Ramsey-Heath said Aquilina will preside over the hearing in which she will be asked to recuse herself from hearing the attorneys' motion for a new sentence for Nassar. 

If Aquilina denies the motion, Ramsey-Heath said it can be appealed to the chief judge of Ingham County Circuit Court.

If it reaches that point, the chief judge will decide which judge will hear the motion to preside over arguments for the motion seeking a resentencing of Nassar, Ramsey-Heath said.

In addition to his federal sentence and the prison time ordered by Aquilina, Eaton County Judge Janice Cunningham sentenced Nassar to a consecutive sentence of 40-125 years, respectively. Ramsey-Heath and McCann have filed a pleading to have his Ingham County sentences run concurrently with his federal sentence.

In the motion that seeks to resentence Nassar in Ingham County, his lawyers argue there is no authority under Michigan law to run the state sentences consecutively with the federal sentence.

They likely will file a similar motion in Eaton County, Ramsey-Heath said. But it was not clear if it would include a request to disqualify Cunningham.

"We are asking the court to resentence him with an open mind to the sentencing range that was agreed to on his plea bargain," Ramsey-Heath said.