Judge in Larry Nassar case calls interim Michigan State President John Engler 'bully'

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina criticizes Michigan State for handling of Nassar case

DETROIT – The judge who sentenced former Michigan State doctor Larry Nassar in a sexual abuse case that involved more than 100 victims criticized the university for its handling of the situation and called the school's interim president a bully while in Detroit for an event.

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina was in Detroit Wednesday as the keynote speaker at a Women in Blue event to celebrate female first responders.

Local 4 asked Aquilina about the Nassar case, which threw her into the national spotlight.

"I was not expecting the breadth of it," Aquilina said. "But I'm enjoying that the message is getting out."

Message is to empower women

Aquilina said the message is to empower women and encourage victims to speak up.

"Nassar has moved people so that they want to come testify, but we have a lot more work to do," Aquilina said. "We have a lot of people who don't want to talk and who are afraid."

Survivors of Nassar's abuse said the case helped them get closure. Aquilina said healing is part of her job.

"I was willing to stay as long as it took, and if it would have taken a month, I would have been there," Aquilina said.

Aquilina said she agreed to speak at the event to empower women.

"Using your voice is really important," she said. "Nassar isn't the only case. I have thousands of cases and victims who are afraid to come. ... We have to teach people from a very young age it's OK to be female. It's OK to be different. It's OK to use your voice. We are listening. You have power. Let's use it. That's really the message I'm talking about, not any particular case. Let's use the power that we have. Let's get people to listen. Let's make change, and together we will live a better life."

Judge criticizes MSU's handling of case

Aquilina was asked about Michigan State's handling of the case, and she made it clear she believes it could have done more.

"They did not do a stellar job in letting victims use their voice, let me say that," Aquilina said. "You should not shut up or dissuade any victim, any time, in any place. There's a right way to do it, and if you think a victim is talking out of turn, then explain properly what the procedure is."

Michigan State took heavy criticism throughout the case for its treatment of the victims.

"Don't be angry with (the victims)," Aquilina said. "You have to have some understanding, and it's not that they should be treated differently, but there's a time and place for everything, and I think they have not been treated in the best manner overall."

'Bully' Engler treating MSU like 'political playground'

Aquilina was asked about Michigan State interim President John Engler's handling of the case, specifically during a victim's statement to the MSU board of trustees.

Kaylee Lorincz attended the April 13 board meeting and read a long statement, accusing Engler of trying to pay her off. While giving her statement, Lorincz was interrupted by Engler several times. He insisted that her time was up and cut her off while she read, angering the crowd.

"That was disappointing," Aquilina said. "I'll tell you, I've watched Gov. Engler when he was senator handle meetings. If it was one of his own, he would let them go on, and there was a way he could have handled that. He could have said, 'I'm going to give you two minutes,' or prior to that meeting, he could have said, 'I know there's a lot of emotion here. I will cut you off at three minutes,' or, 'Because of the situation, I will give you each five minutes.'"    

Aquilina said the meeting didn't have to end in a fight.

"Haven't these girls fought enough?" she asked. "Why does he have to come off as the big bully? Former Gov. Engler certainly knows how to handle a situation, and he didn't handle that one very well. You can say the girls were out of turn, but let me tell you, he was out of turn. He was a bully there. He didn't need to be a bully. There's a way to handle a situation, to diffuse it, and that wasn't the right way. It's just very sad how the whole thing happened."

Aquilina said she doesn't know the inner workings of the changes Engler is trying to make at Michigan State, but she doesn't think there's enough happening.

"I know it's a difficult job," Aquilina said. "I don't know that he was exactly the right person for that job.

"He's been more interested in putting his people in the university than looking at the problems. The first and foremost, you clean out, look at the problems and you put the right people in, not political people, but the right people."

Aquilina said Michigan State isn't a place for politics, but a place where students are educated.

"We need good educators for our children," Aquilina said. "This is our future. It's a mainstay in our state, and unfortunately, he's made it a political playground. That is wrong."

Michigan State responds to comments

Michigan State University released the following response to Aquilina's comments:

"Interim President Engler is focused on making improvements to MSU’s campus, making it a safer and more inclusive environment for both students and faculty to thrive. Changes to our patient care policies, sexual assault prevention and treatment programs are his priorities. Everyone at MSU is sorry for what happened to the survivors of Larry Nassar, and we’re working to make sure it can never happen on our campus again."

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