MSU employees say Simon was 'detail-oriented,' kept close tabs on employees

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Former Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon listens during her preliminary hearing Tuesday in Charlotte, Mich. Two MSU employees described Simon, as a detail-oriented leader who stayed abreast of developments through regular meetings with university leadership.

Charlotte — Two Michigan State University employees described their former boss, President Lou Anna Simon, as a detail-oriented leader who stayed abreast of developments through regular meetings with university leadership.

"She was extraordinarily knowledgeable about everything that happened on campus," Marti Howe, Simon’s executive staff assistant, said in a hearing Tuesday. "She was detail-oriented. She was hands-on related to things she needed to be hands-on with.”

The testimony comes as prosecutors allege Simon lied to police in 2018 when she maintained she was never told sports medicine doctor Larry Nassar’s name when she was informed in a meeting about a 2014 sexual assault complaint. She is charged with two felony and two misdemeanor counts of lying to police.

With prosecution and defense each boasting at least three attorneys in the courtroom, the fourth day of Simon's preliminary examination was perforated by dozens of objections to testimony and evidence. The hearing is expected to resume June 11.

The testimony of Howe and MSU Provost June Youatt combined with dozens of meeting agendas appear to give credence to the idea that Simon discussed campus sexual assault cases regularly, was under pressure from a federal Title IX investigation and expected her employees to keep her informed of major developments, such as a complaint against Nassar.

But Simon's attorney was doubtful of the Attorney General Office's evidence. 

After four days of testimony, “I have yet to hear one witness say that they told Lou Anna Simon in 2014 that the sports medicine doctor under review was Larry Nassar,” said Lee Silver, Simon’s attorney.

The charges against Simon revolve around her knowledge of a 2014 Title IX complaint filed by Amanda Thomashow, who alleged Nassar had massaged her breast and labia during an appointment for a cheerleading injury.

The complaint was processed by Title IX investigator Kristine Moore, who notified Title IX coordinator Paulette Granberry-Russell of the incident. The Attorney General’s Office maintains Granberry-Russell told Simon that Nassar was the subject of the complaint during a May 19, 2014, meeting.

Granberry-Russell, a senior adviser to Simon, testified she could not recall telling Simon that the complaint involved Nassar. She said she did not even receive a copy of the final report regarding the 2014 investigation into Nassar, let alone give that report to Simon.

“There’s no formal protocol that requires a specific outcome of a Title IX case being brought to the attention of the president,” Granberry-Russell testified Tuesday.

Granberry-Russell appears to play a pivotal role in the Attorney General Office’s case against Simon since police believe handwritten notes on the administrator's folder and agenda from the May 19, 2014, meeting with Simon prove she discussed the doctor by name with Simon.

Last week, Granberry-Russell stated she brought the complaint up to Simon because it involved a patient-doctor incident and because of a “heightened sense of alert” on campus due to an ongoing federal review of the university’s handling of Title IX office.

Granberry-Russell told Simon’s lawyers she was unsure when she made handwritten notes on her folder that said “Sports Med, Dr. Nassar, SA,” with “SA” standing for sexual assault. She said she assumed the notes were made prior to her meeting with Simon so that she would remember to bring them up.

Tuesday marked the first time the defense was able to cross-examine Granberry-Russell. Lawyers Mayer Morganroth and Silver argued that the Office of Civil Rights’ review of MSU was similar to dozens of others being conducted across the nation. They argued that Granberry-Russell had been pressured by police and prosecutors in three 2018 interviews to say she’d mentioned Nassar by name to Simon.

“They’re trying to force her to say what they want,” Morganroth said of the 2018 police interviews.

MSU Provost June Youatt testified Tuesday that officials aware of the Office of Civil Rights review on campus “took the visit very seriously.” She said she first learned of the 2014 complaint against Nassar during a meeting with College of Osteopathic Medicine Dean William Strampel.

Youatt didn’t follow up on the issue because she assumed negative findings “would be reported to me,” she said.

Simon, Youatt testified Tuesday, was “a caretaker, a steward, a planner” who “was very aware of the way in which (MSU executives) did their work.”

Howe reviewed dozens of agendas from meetings dating back to 2012 between Simon and Granberry-Russell that show the pair regularly discussed the federal Office of Civil Rights investigation at MSU and sexual assault cases on campus.

Simon had a system of checking items she had reviewed that needed to be revisited at the next meeting and placing an “X” next to those that didn’t need to be discussed again, Howe said.

On the May 19, 2014, agenda for her meeting with Granberry-Russell, Simon placed a check mark next to an agenda item titled “sexual assault cases,” Howe said. There was a handwritten note next to the item: “COM,” presumably referring to the College of Medicine.

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