Monday, October 19, 2020

Lou Anna K. Simon in court: Opening statements, Thomashow testifies

February 5, 2019

The preliminary examination for former Michigan State president Lou Anna K. Simon was held in Eaton County District Court Tuesday morning.

Simon is charged with four counts of lying to a peace officer, including two felonies. These charges carry a maximum penalty of four years in prison, and a $5,000 fine.

Both the prosecution from the Attorney General's office and Simon's defense made opening statements, followed by testimony by Amanda Thomashow, a survivor of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar. She made a complaint to MSU after her March 2014 abuse. This was the first court testimony made by Thomashow in any proceeding related to her assault. 

The prosecution began by showing enlarged email communications from May 2014 between Paulette Granberry Russell, a former senior presidential advisor, and Simon. The email included the line “we have an incident involving a sports medicine doc.” Then, the prosecution alleged Russell and Simon had a May 19, 2014, meeting, and presented an image of a folder they say Russell will testify she prepared for that meeting, with “sports med, Dr. Nassar, SA” written on the outside. 

The AG's office indicated they will call Simon’s former administrative assistant in April to testify that a note on an agenda from that meeting, “COM,” which means “College of Osteopathic Medicine,” was written by Simon herself.

"From 2016 to 2018, the defendant maintained that the only thing she knew was that there was a sports med doc that was under review," Scott Teter, a prosecuting attorney, said. "She never told anyone that she didn't just get an email, there was also a phone conversation with Paulette Granberry Russell, because it allowed her to absolve herself and MSU the responsibility of what she knew.

"She apparently never thought we'd find the agenda prepared by Paulette Granberry Russell or the one that she completed in her own handwriting."

The defense’s opening statement questioned the validity of the folder and the meeting, alleging Russell told investigators five times that an in-person meeting never happened. They also said the 2018 interview conducted by Michigan State Police with Simon was politically motivated, as by that time Nassar had already been sentenced. 

The defense alleged that because then-Attorney General Bill Schuette was running for Governor against Gretchen Whitmer, he wanted to take down a prominent woman, Simon, to discredit all women. Simon was charged Nov. 20, 14 days after the midterm elections.

"Everything seemed to be woman-weighted because of all of the things that have happened. So, what happens? How do they switch it? It's very simple. Bring down a woman and say that she lied," Mayer Morganroth, one of Simon's defense lawyers, said. 

Thomashow was called by the prosecution as their only witness today, despite earlier objections by the defense that her testimony was irrelevant and was intended to garner sympathy. Thomashow entered the courtroom with several other survivors by her side. 

Thomashow discussed her 2014 contact with Kristine Moore, the leader of a Title IX investigation from that same year. She said that when they spoke in April of that year, Moore was shocked to hear the details of her assault at the hands of Nassar and was extremely sympathetic. At a later meeting in July 2014, Thomashow said Moore used a diagram of a female body to show her that she had not actually been sexually assaulted, and that the Title IX investigation was now closed. Thomashow also alleged that Moore apologized, but said that there was nothing further she could do, and told her that her statement would no longer be needed for a then-ongoing MSU Police investigation into Nassar.

"I told her, 'you're not sorry, don't apologize to me,' and I stormed out of her office, and slammed the door," Thomashow said of the July 2014 meeting with Moore. 

Lee Silver, one of Simon’s defense attorneys, briefly cross-examined Thomashow, emphasizing that while he was saddened by the abuse she had suffered, it was not relevant to the case of Simon. He asked if Simon was directly present for any of the conversations that Thomashow had with investigators in 2014. Thomashow said Simon was not present.

"We admire Ms. Thomashow's courage, I know it wasn't easy for her to testify here," Silver said. "I just feel bad that she had to go through this, because in my opinion it was completely irrelevant to these charges, and was designed to garner sympathy."

The preliminary examination will continue April 8. 

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