Judge: Probable cause that Simon 'knew what was going on' in Nassar report

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News
Former Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon will appear Tuesday in court for the fifth day of her preliminary hearing on charges stemming from the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal.

Charlotte — As an attorney for Lou Anna Simon spent much of Tuesday grilling a detective at her preliminary hearing, the judge in the criminal case against the former Michigan State University president said she reviewed documents indicating there's "probable cause" that Simon "knew what was going on" with a 2014 complaint against pedophile Larry Nassar.   

Eaton County Judge Julie Reincke's comments came during the fifth day of Simon's hearing — even though two more days of testimony are planned from both sides.

At the end of the hearing, Reincke will determine whether enough evidence exists to bind Simon over for trial on charges that she lied to police about what she knew about Nassar, a serial pedophile who preyed for decades as an MSU doctor. 

Simon has maintained that she was made aware that a sports doctor was under review in 2014 but did not get involved in sexual assault investigations, especially when a finding hadn't been made, and she did not know it was Nassar until 2016, when media reports emerged. 

Early in the hearing, Reincke said she had read some of the agendas on monthly meetings between Simon and Title IX coordinator Paulette Granberry-Russell that emerged during testimony in April, including one that referenced the MSU College of Osteopathic, where Nassar previously worked.

"I've seen lots of agendas with sexual assault and they provide probable cause that Dr. Simon knew what was going on in reference to the osteopathic medicine department," the judge said.

But during a lunch break, Mayer Morganroth, one of Simon's attorneys, said that the judge was saying, "there could be probable cause for those particular items."

"However, she hasn't heard everything yet," Morganroth said. "That is not her final decision ... It's not over."

Prosecutors allege Simon lied to police in 2018 when she said she was never told the name of Nassar, a former MSU sports doctor, when she was informed in a meeting about the 2014 sexual assault complaint. She is charged with two felony and two misdemeanor counts.

The charges against Simon stem from her knowledge of the Title IX complaint filed by Amanda Thomashow, who was the first to file a formal complaint at MSU, alleging that Nassar had massaged her breast and labia during an appointment for a cheerleading injury.

The Thomashow investigation concluded with MSU standing by Nassar, though it later emerged that Nassar assaulted hundreds of young women similarly under the guide of medical treatment. 

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

Lee Silver, another attorney for Simon, challenged Michigan State Police Detective Sgt. William Arndt on the evidence that led him to get charges authorized against Simon.

Arndt interviewed Simon on May 1, 2018, and she told him she knew a sports doctor was under review in 2014 but she didn't know the substance of it or the nature of the complaint, according to a transcript of the meeting.

Subsequent evidence emerged that showed an appointment on the calendars of Granberry-Russell and Simon for a May 19, 2014, meeting that prosecutors say included discussion about the complaint against Nassar. 

Silver asked Arndt if he told Simon he was interviewing her as part of a criminal investigation, saying that was a key piece of information that was not documented but would be needed to convict her of lying to police. Arndt replied that another state police officer informed her.

He also asked the detective what evidence showed Simon knew of Nassar's name in 2014 and led Arndt to believe that Simon lied to him. 

"My belief is … she lied during our interview," said Arndt. "I think she did know about Larry Nassar."

Silver countered that belief and evidence are two different things. He noted that Simon testified a year ago before a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee and didn't invoke her Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination like former USA Gymnastics head Steve Penny did at the same hearing.

Scott Teter, lead attorney for the Michigan Attorney General's office, said after the hearing that there was no transcript of the 2014 meeting in question and that other witnesses have testified that Simon was a very detail-oriented leader.

"She had her hands in everything," Teter said. "She knew exactly what was going on at all times."

The court has sat aside July 12  as another day for Simon's preliminary exam, which is to include testimony from MSU Trustee Brian Mosallam. The two sides haven't set a date for what is expected to be the final day of the hearing.

Silver declined to reveal how many witnesses would testify on Simon's behalf. He also would not say whether she would take the stand. 

The first person to take the stand Tuesday was Marti Howe, Simon's assistant for 10 years. Howe began her testimony during a hearing in April. 

Under cross examination by Silver, Howe acknowledged that Simon met regularly with officials at the university and used a check mark to indicate an issue had been discussed and an X to indicate the item was completed. Sometimes, she made handwritten notes on the agenda. 

But agenda items with Granberry-Russell in several meetings in 2014 — a key year in the case against Simon —  showed that many issues were not addressed during the hour-long meetings and had to be rescheduled.

Howe's testimony also confirmed that Nassar's name was not part of the documents, either in agenda items on in handwritten notes.

Her cross-examination testimony appeared to be aimed at countering the idea that Simon knew of Nassar as she discussed campus sexual assault cases with Granberry-Russell and was under pressure from a federal Title IX investigation.

But one of Teter's last questions to Howe was about how the frequency that Simon met with officials — weekly, bi-weekly and monthly — signaled the importance of issues.

"According to President Simon, sexual assault cases, the Office of Civil Rights, Title IX implementation — all the areas under Paula Granberry-Russell — only merited a monthly meeting, is that right?" Teter asked.

"Yes," Howe said.

Simon resigned from MSU in January 2018 as more than 200 women and girls testified about Nassar's abuse in two courtrooms over nine days in Eaton and Ingham counties.

She was succeeded by two interim presidents, John Engler and Satish Udpa. Last month, the MSU Board of Trustees named Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley to become MSU's permanent leader starting Aug. 1.