Nassar attorneys slam Aquilina for 'antagonism'
Larry Nassar's lawyers came out swinging in a response filed Thursday to the Michigan Attorney General's defense of the judge who sentenced him to 40-175 years in prison for sexual assault.
In court documents, Malaika Ramsey-Heath and Jacqueline McCann, of the State Appellate Defender Office in Detroit, argue that Nassar, a prolific sexual predator, was denied his right to an unbiased judgment during his Ingham County sentencing hearing in January.
Nassar's attorneys argue that Judge Rosemarie Aquilina displayed a lack of impartiality in her statements when she presided over an epic, seven-day hearing where more than 150 victims spoke about how the former sports doctor's abuse affected them.
"It is difficult to imagine a more fervent expression of antagonism than (while on a world stage) wishing one had the power to authorize a person's death, or hope for prison anarchists to inflict cruel and unusual punishment: that is exactly what happened at sentencing in the current case," the attorneys wrote. "It is even more difficult to imagine a more fervent expression of favoritism of the victims than what has been expressed by the sentencing judge in this case."
"This Court, at the very least, has created an atmosphere in which there is an inescapable appearance of impropriety (and likely actual bias)," according to the court documents.
Not only that, Nassar's attorneys said, Aquilina has continued to demonstrate her bias during public events and on social media posts.
"It is impossible for a judge who has become so enmeshed in the public adoration and celebrity resulting from the severity of her treatment of Dr. Nassar to now be seen seen as neutral and unbiased," they wrote.
The response was filed a day before Nassar's attorneys attorneys are poised to ask Aquilina on Friday to recuse herself from his case as his multi-pronged appeal in Ingham and federal courts begins in an effort to reduce his prison time.
Nassar is serving a 60-year federal sentence at the United States Penitentiary, Tucson, for possession of child pornography. He also faces consecutive sentences from Ingham and Eaton counties for first-degree criminal sexual conduct inflicted on young women while he was a revered osteopathic physician at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics.
Ramsey-Heath and McCann filed motions for Aquilina to disqualify herself and another judge to reconsider Nassar's Ingham County sentence. They also moved for a judge to consider making his Ingham County sentence concurrent with his federal sentence, instead of consecutive.
But in court documents responding to Nassar's lawyers, assistant attorney general Christopher M. Allen said that a sentencing judge has a different role than a trial judge.
"As the voice of the community, a sentencing judge is permitted to use strong language to redress the victims and express the grievance of society," Allen wrote. "Judge Aquilina ... expressed frustration with Nassar — with his conduct, his unabated pattern of abuse, the enormity of pain it caused the victims, the ripples of hurt to the family of those he abused, and the lack of his sincere remorse — and expressed it in a manner that channeled the community's frustration and moral outrage."
Nassar's attorneys disagreed in their response.
"[T]he prosecutor curiously seems to argue that a defendant's right to appear before a fair tribunal ends at conviction," according to the court documents. "However, our Supreme Court has explained 'a sentence following a conviction is as much a part of the final judgment of the trial Court as is the conviction itself.'"
They pointed to Aquilina's actions in recent months on social media.
"This Court, at the very least, has created an atmosphere in which there is an inescapable appearance of impropriety (and likely actual bias)," Nassar's attorneys wrote. "The prosecutor argues the numerous speaking engagements, photographs with the victims, and newspaper articles wherein this Court freely admitted that it was not unbiased are not enough to require disqualification.
"But, after sentencing and until the day the current motion was filed, Judge Aquilina also engaged in a social media campaign of self-promotion founded almost entirely on the severe positions she has taken in this case."
Examples, they said, include Aquilina posting photos of herself with Nassar's accusers and liking social media posts that criticized Nassar and MSU.