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Former Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon is headed to trial on charges that she lied to police regarding the extent of her knowledge of allegations against serial molester Larry Nassar.

In a written opinion and order Monday, Eaton County Judge Julie Reincke found that Attorney General Dana Nessel's office had established probable cause that Simon lied to police in an interview last year. 

The decision comes after a preliminary examination that spanned several months as lawyers argued about whether Simon was told at a 2014 meeting with Title IX coordinator Paulette Granberry-Russell that Nassar was the subject of a sexual assault complaint.

Simon and her legal team were "disappointed" by Reincke's ruling "in light of the complete lack of evidence to support the charges," said attorney Lee Silver. 

"We plan to vigorously defend Dr. Simon and will be appealing the decision of the district court," Silver said. "We remain confident that we will ultimately prevail and that Lou Anna Simon will be fully acquitted of these charges.”

Reincke's decision "brings survivors another step closer to receiving the answers they deserve," Nessel said in a statement Monday. "After months of preliminary examination and thoughtful consideration by Judge Julie Reincke, we are ready to bring the facts to a jury of Ms. Simon’s peers.”

Simon is charged with two felony and two misdemeanor counts of lying to a peace officer related to whether she knew the content of allegations made against Nassar in 2014. The felony charges carry up to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Simon told police in May 2018 that she knew an MSU sports medicine doctor was “under review,” but knew “nothing of substance” beyond that, police have testified.

Police and prosecutors have alleged Simon lied in the 2018 interview and did know Nassar was the subject of the 2014 complaints. They’ve introduced file folders and agendas from the 2014 meeting that included handwritten notes that said “sexual assault cases"; “COM” for College of Medicine, and “Sports Med, Dr. Nassar, SA,” with “SA” standing for sexual assault.

In her decision Monday, Reincke said the chain of communication after Amanda Thomashow first made allegations of sexual abuse by Nassar to MSU Title IX investigator Kristine Moore showed the complaint “aroused serious, very significant concern.”

After receiving the complaint May 15, 2014, Moore informed Granberry-Russell the same night and Granberry-Russell emailed Simon the next morning. A day later, “evidence suggests that this was a topic of conversation in a meeting between Simon and Russell,” Reincke said. 

“It is not credible to believe that Simon would have heard even the outline of Thomashow’s story and forgotten it,” Reincke wrote, noting that testimony described Simon as a “responsible and dedicated” president who “paid attention to detail.”

Reincke said Simon was informed that the detectives interviewing her in 2018 were performing a criminal investigation but there was no requirement to inform Simon of which specific crimes they were investigating. Within that context, there is probable cause that Simon “concealed the information voluntarily and intentionally,” the judge wrote. 

Simon’s answers during the interview appeared "to have resulted in an investigation that was like looking for a needle in a haystack instead of having focus on a limited number of persons and communications,” Reincke said. 

“Had the detectives asked more questions of Simon despite her denial of knowledge, they might have been able to circumvent her denials,” she wrote. “But they weren’t required to pursue information she claimed to know little or nothing about.”

Reincke noted in her opinion that she is not tasked with deciding whether there was proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt “or to comment on the fairness of this brief question and response being treated as four separate acts.”

Unless the hearings are waived, Simon will appear in Eaton County Circuit Court for an arraignment Dec. 12 and a status conference Dec. 20.

Simon resigned as president shortly after Nassar’s sentencing in Ingham County Circuit Court in January 2018 amid accusations that the university didn’t do enough to stop Nassar from molesting hundreds of young athletes throughout his career. She was one of at least 14 MSU staff members who were warned about Nassar's conduct, according to a Detroit News investigation.

Simon, who retired from the university Aug. 31 after 45 years, was president from 2005-18. Under the terms of her retirement agreement, Simon holds the titles of president emeritus and faculty emeritus and will receive three annual payments for a total gross amount of $2.45 million.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

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