Nassar judge considers Supreme Court run

Jonathan Oosting

Lansing – Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina has “been approached” about a potential run for the Michigan Supreme Court and will meet Tuesday with Democrats asking her to consider a campaign, she confirmed Monday.

Aquilina garnered international attention this month as she presided over victim impact statements and sentenced Larry Nassar to 40-175 years in prison, calling it a “death sentence” for the former gymnastics doctor convicted of multiple sexual assaults.

The 59-year-old judge declined to discuss the case Monday, saying more than 150 victims who came forward at sentencing deserve the limelight. But she acknowledged it has changed her life and prompted supportive messages from observers “around the world.”

Democrats have asked her to run for the state’s highest court, she told The Detroit News, saying she is willing to listen but is not sure if it would be the right fit.

A Michigan Supreme Court decision could have a large impact, she said, but life as a justice seems “a bit isolating.”

“I think I would enjoy it, but I have to seriously think about taking that step, because I really also think I may be more impactful here than there, because I talk to people all the time,” she said.

“At the Supreme Court, you’re not hearing the citizens, you’re hearing their lawyers.”

Democrats are seeking two nominees to run against Michigan Supreme Court Justices Kurtis Wilder and Elizabeth Clement, who were each appointed last year by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder to fill vacancies on the court.

Both major political parties will officially select Supreme Court nominees in late August, but Democrats this year are planning an early endorsement convention on April 15 in an attempt to give non-primary candidates more time to build campaigns.

Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon said Monday he is not personally among those planning to meet with Aquilina on Tuesday and did not know who was.

“I think if she’s interested in doing it, she could be a very good candidate,” Dillon said. “Obviously, I think she’s proven herself to be a pretty tough judge who I think handled this Nassar case with the right combination of toughness and compassion for the victims.”

Democratic strategist TJ Bucholz said Aquilina’s name has recently surfaced in Supreme Court chatter around Lansing, but he’s not sure “how real it is” at this point in time.

“There are some opportunities for the Supreme Court this cycle and she does have a high-profile at the moment, so it’s possible,” Bucholz said. “But again, I haven’t heard much beyond the last couple of days.”

Aquilina said she hasn’t “affiliated” with any political party for the past 15 or so years, but she noted it’s “no secret I was raised a Democrat” and worked for former state Sen. John F. Kelly, a Democrat. She also ran for the state Senate as a Democrat in 1997.

“I think that if I ran, I would have bipartisan support, although I don’t know that for sure,” Aquilina said. “The number of emails and messages, a lot of that coming to me is really from both sides. It’s not about politics, I think it’s about wanting a voice and a change.”

Aquilina served 20 years in the Michigan Army National Guard before beginning her legal career. She’s also a published novelist. Her most recent book, the fictional “Triple Cross Killer,” was published in paperback last month.

She is a single mother of five children, including twins she gave birth to at age 52.

Aquilina worked as a 55th District Court judge for four years and was elected to the 30th Circuit Court for Ingham County in 2008. She won re-election in 2014, and her current term runs through the end of 2020.

“I may just stay here until I’m 74 like I planned to do,” Aquilina said.

Staff Writer Kim Kozlowski contributed