Ex-MSU President Lou Anna Simon arraigned in connection with Nassar scandal

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News
Former Michigan State President Lou Anna K. Simon listens to the charges brought against her in court Monday in Charlotte.

Charlotte — Former Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon appeared Monday in the same Eaton County courtroom where dozens of young women testified about Larry Nassar's sexual abuse and where the serial pedophile was last seen in public after his criminal proceedings ended.

Simon, 71, was arraigned on charges that allege she lied about what she knew about Nassar, the former university sports doctor now known as one of the most notorious sex offenders in history after sexually abusing young women for decades under the guise of medical treatment.

Simon appeared before Eaton County District Court Judge Julie Reincke on four charges that allege she knew about the nature of the allegations against Nassar when the sports doctor was under a Title IX investigation at MSU in 2014.

Reincke set a $5,000 personal recognizance bond with normal requirements that Simon not leave the state and must surrender her passport. She was also fingerprinted. A probable cause conference will be held on Dec. 18 and a preliminary exam date will be set then.

The former university leader sat at a table flanked by her attorneys with a "defendant" sign in front of her during Monday's arraignment. She said little during the hearing before she departed the courtroom with her attorneys.

One of Simon’s lawyers, Mayer Morganroth, said afterward that Simon plans to plead not guilty and the charges against her are “false, ridiculous,” based on someone else’s notes that have not been shown to anybody. “She had 47 years there (at MSU), and all they are doing is torturing a woman.”

Simon, MSU's first female president, served 13 years at the helm of the state's largest university and in a variety of administrative jobs for more than three decades before that. She is charged with four counts of lying to a peace officer — two felonies and two misdemeanors. The felony charges carry up to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Simon, who lives in East Lansing with her husband, has only been spotted around town since she resigned under pressure in January but stayed on with the university.

She told police in May that she “was not aware of any of the substance of that review, the nature of the complaint; all that was learned in 2016," according to court documents.

But authorities say an agenda item and a handwritten note from a May 19, 2014, meeting are proof Simon and a senior adviser discussed the sexual assault investigation and Nassar by name.

The charges against Simon are important to victims and allies because they say the victimization could have been stopped sooner had someone taken action against Nassar when victims came forward and reported him.

At issue is a 2014 Title IX complaint filed by Amanda Thomashow, then 24, after she had a medical appointment with Nassar at the MSU Sports Medicine Clinic for hip pain. During the appointment, Nassar massaged Thomashow's breast and near her groin, according to court documents.

The case was investigated by Kristine Moore, then the assistant director for Institutional Equity in MSU’s Office for Inclusion and now MSU’s assistant general counsel. Moore interviewed Thomashow and called her supervisor, Paulette Granberry Russell, who was director of the office and adviser to Simon. Moore also provided Russell with a written summary of Thomashow's complaint against Nassar.

Court documents show that Russell sent an email to Simon: "We had an incident involving a sports medicine doc."

Three days later, on May 19, 2014, Russell and Simon had a meeting at which the investigation was discussed, court documents show.

Investigators obtained documents from that meeting including Simon's agenda from the meeting that included a notation in Simon's handwriting next to the sexual assault case, court records show.

"Simon's statements that she was not aware of the nature of the complaint that generated the 2014 Title IX investigation was false and misleading,"  according to court documents. "Simon made these statements ... in an effort to insulate herself and MSU from criminal and civil liability ..."

Former MSU President Lou Anna Simon, center, appears in court with her attorneys Monday in Charlotte.

Emma Ann Miller, who was assaulted by Nassar repeatedly, including as late as August 2016, said she is perplexed by Simon's statements during the investigation.

“At the point in time when she was being interviewed by the police, it just seems to me, that with all her wisdom and intelligence, she would be speaking from a point of having dotted her 'i's and crossing her 't's," said Miller.  "She had counsel, and the university was paying for that counsel. She knew her emails and notes were being examined. What are we supposed to think? That she just forgot about a meeting she attended where the topic of conversation was the man responsible for molesting hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent survivors?"

Her mother, Leslie Miller, added that it's important to everyone to prevent conduct such as Nassar's from occurring in the future.

"Not at MSU — or anywhere else," Miller said. "In order to do that, we first have to figure out exactly what happened, how it happened and why it happened. ...  An investigation requires the cooperation and honesty of all those involved; especially the university president. Hopefully, this process reveals the what, how, and why, so we can make sure this never happens again."

Simon was one of at least 14 officials who were warned about Nassar's sexual misconduct, according to a Detroit News investigation.

The charges against Simon are part of the Michigan Attorney General's investigation into what MSU knew about Nassar over the decades he sexually abused young women and girls.

It commenced earlier this year, more than a year after Nassar was first publicly accused in September 2016 by victim Rachael Denhollander. 

Nassar initially denied the accusations then admitted to the sexual abuse, along with possessing 37,000 images of child pornography. He is serving one of three prison terms at  Coleman II United States Penitentiary, a high-security prison in Sumterville, Florida, near Orlando.

For months, the East Lansing university denied culpability.

But after more than 150 young women testified for seven days in a hearing that was broadcast around the world, Simon resigned on the same night that Eaton County Judge Rosemarie Aquilina handed Nassar a 40-175 year prison sentence. It was one of three sentences that judges would give Nassar for his crimes.

Simon moved into an emeritus role and was on a one-year research leave, per her contract. At the time of her resignation, Simon wrote: "As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable." 

Ten months later, the charges issued against her last week prompted Simon to take a leave of absence, without pay, to focus on her legal situation, MSU officials said.

It also prompted lawmakers to examine what Simon told them earlier this year when she testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee with jurisdiction over the health and safety of USA Gymnastics, U.S. Olympics and NCAA athletes.

Others charged in connection with the Nassar scandal include William Strampel, the former dean of the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine and Nassar's former boss, and Kathie Klages, the longtime MSU head gymnastics coach who has since retired. 

Debbie Van Horn, a trainer who worked with Nassar and elite gymnasts at the Karolyi Ranch in Texas, was also charged by Texas authorities in connection with the scandal earlier this year.