Michigan state court Judge Rosemarie E. Aquilina recently sentenced Dr. Lawrence Nassar to 40 to 175 years in prison in the wake of 156 women and girls, mostly gymnasts, telling the court that the former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor sexually abused them over the past two decades.


Judge Aquilina, a MSU alumni, got her law degree from Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan. She served twenty years in the Michigan Army National Guard where she became the state’s first female advocate in the Judge Advocate General’s Corp where she acquired the moniker “Barracuda Aquilina.” She then held positions as an adjunct professor at Cooley Law School and MSU Law School. After failing to secure a seat in the Michigan legislature, Aquilina became a state district court judge in 2004 before becoming a circuit judge in 2008.


Judge Betrays Appearance of Impartial Arbiter


These biographical facts should tell us one thing: Judge Aquilina should be aware of her ethical responsibilities as a criminal court judge. She failed those responsibilities horribly during Nassar’s sentencing hearing. Huffington Post writer Melissa Jelsten described the failure this way:


“ … Aquilina’s manner during sentencing, in which she said she was honored to sentence Nassar to die in prison and suggested he deserved to be sexually assaulted himself, has raised questions about whether she overstepped her role as an impartial arbiter of justice. It is not unusual for judges to use emotional language during sentencing, or to offer their frank opinion about what a heinous person they believe the defendant to be, based on their criminal conduct. That’s not inconsistent with impartiality, so long as the judge’s opinion is drawn from the relevant facts in the case, and not extraneous factors, such as the race of a defendant.”


The Nassar case, with all its social implications, deserved a professional, impartial, and dignified judge with an understanding of how to measure and define justice. It did not need a judicial “barracuda” as Judge Aquilina exhibited herself to be. Her behavior throughout the sentencing proceedings, and especially in the actual imposition of sentence, revealed an individual ill-equipped to administer justice in a fair and honorable manner.


Judge Set Poor Example


Indiana University’s Maurer School of law professor Charles Gardner Geyh, whose position studies judicial conduct and ethics, was far too kind to “Barracuda” Aquilina when he said that, while he was sympathetic to her position, she set a poor example in the Nassar case.


The judge’s personal remarks, like her desire to see Nassar raped in prison, deserves no sympathy or understanding. She was elected to be a judge who is fair and impartial capable of protecting the Michigan judicial process. She failed miserably in that endeavor. She revealed herself as an unprofessional, unethical monger of revenge with a desire to see the defendant subjected to criminal sexual violence in prison.


Calls for Sexual Assault in Prison Unethical


Canon 1 of the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct demands that “justice in our society” be administered by an “independent and honorable judiciary” with judges capable of observing the “high standards of conduct” necessary to preserve “the integrity and independence of the judiciary.”


Barracuda Aquilina disgraced this ethical canon by infecting the Nassar sentencing process with her own personal biased opinions and a commitment to prison sexual violence as just deserts for anyone committing sexual violence in the free community.


Canon 2(b) of the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct not only instructs but demands that “a judge should respect and observe the law. At all times, the conduct and manner of a judge should promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. Without regard to a person’s race, gender, or other protected personal characteristic, a judge should treat every person fairly, with courtesy and respect.”


There is no defense for Larry Nassar’s criminal behavior. He was brought before the bar of justice to face deserved punishment based on the facts and law.  Given the horrible crimes to which he confessed, the length of sentenced is surely just. He should never see the streets of the free world again.


Judge Aquilina took the extraordinary, unheard of action of encouraging criminal sexual violence against the defendant in the prison setting. The judge permitted 156 women in one sentencing proceeding to testify about the sexual abuse they had been subjected to by Nassar. This highly prejudicial process so inflamed the judge that she advocated criminal sexual violence against the defendant.


Under Michigan law, criminal sexual conduct is punished by the exhaustive Criminal Sexual Conduct Act—a gender neutral Act designed to protect both female and male victims of criminal sexual violence.


Inmate violence against other inmates, including sexual violence, is nothing new, but a judge should not be encouraging such barbaric behavior inside our penal institutions.  Here’s the kind of conduct Barracuda Aquilina advocated in the sentencing of Nassar:


  • Last July, 23-year-old Rodriquez Montez Burks, who was serving a 2-10 year sentence at the Alger County Correctional Facility, was brutally murdered by a cellmate because Burks was gay.
  • Or juveniles tried as adults being subjected to rape and other forms of criminal sexual violence throughout the Michigan prison system. State prison officials have acknowledged that teen inmates are five times more likely to be subjected to criminal sexual violence when placed in cells with older inmates.


In 2003, Congress enacted the Prison Rape Elimination Act designed to address criminal sexual violence in prison while some states, like Texas, have adopted Safe Prisons Programs designed to prevent prison sexual violence. Apparently, Barracuda Aquilina would like to see these laws and programs ignored in the Nassar case. Perhaps Judge Aquilina would like to visit the prison cellblock and watch Nassar being gang-raped. That is exactly what the Barracuda has condemned him to. Scores of inmates wishing to gain notoriety are no doubt lined up waiting for Nassar, so they can honor the Barracuda’s wishes.


We believe the Michigan Supreme Court should investigate Judge Rosemarie Aquilina’s judicial conduct in the Larry Nassar case for encouraging criminal sexual violence from the bench. No judge in this nation should be allowed to advocate, much less encourage, that sort of violence.