Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Two new witnesses introduced in contentious Day 4 of Simon hearing

April 16, 2019

Two new witnesses were introduced during the fourth day of former Michigan State president Lou Anna K. Simon’s preliminary hearing Tuesday in Judge Julie Reincke’s Eaton County courtroom. Simon’s attorneys clashed with Reincke over the admissibility of many exhibits prepared by the prosecution, particularly those prepared for former Simon executive assistant Marti Howe.

In addition, key witness Paulette Granberry Russell was excused from the witness stand after being on it for part of three days.

Russell Cross-Examined

The first order of business for the court was allowing Simon’s attorneys to cross-examine Russell, former senior presidential adviser and Title IX coordinator. Russell had been initially questioned by state’s attorney Scott Teter for two days last week.

In May 2014, Amanda Thomashow’s complaint into disgraced Larry Nassar’s sexual misconduct helped launch an investigation by the Title IX office, which fell under Russell’s purview.

Simon faces four counts of lying to a peace officer, including two felonies, stemming from a 2018 interview with Michigan State Police where she said she was not aware of Nassar’s abuse until 2016. The felonies carry a maximum prison sentence of four years.

Mayer Morganroth began the cross-examination for the defense. He asked Russell repeatedly — over numerous objections from the prosecution — if at any time during her 2014 communications with Simon, she mentioned Larry Nassar by name, and she said she did not recall doing so.

The crucial question for Russell’s testimony is whether she ever did do so, and her usefulness to the prosecution hinges on the contents of a folder dated May 14, 2014, with the words “Dr. Nassar, SA (sexual assault)” handwritten on the outside, containing an agenda for a meeting between Russell and Simon.

The defense sought to show Nassar was never mentioned during this meeting. Lee Silver, another defense attorney, pointed to an agenda dated May 19, 2014, for a meeting between the two, and noted that nine names were handwritten on Russell’s copy of the agenda, but not Nassar’s.

After a brief redirect line of questioning by Teter, Russell was excused.

Youatt and Howe Appear for First Time

The prosecution called current MSU Provost June Youatt, who held the same position in 2014 during the time in which the meeting between Simon and Russell occurred. Youatt said she was aware of a review of a doctor from the College of Osteopathic Medicine, where Nassar was a member of the faculty, in 2014, but did not know his name.

When Teter asked Youatt to describe Simon’s management style in managing a large university, a major disruption occurred.

Simon attorney Michael Gutierrez objected, saying that Simon’s management style and the size of the university were irrelevant. Teter responded by referring to Morganroth’s opening statement from February, where he said that Simon didn’t get involved in specific cases such as Nassar’s, because if she did, she wouldn’t have time for anything else.

This assertion was disputed, and led to a 20-minute recess for the prosecuting attorneys to find what they were looking for. Eventually, Gutierrez’s objection was overruled because Morganroth was found to have introduced Simon’s management style and the size of the university into the discourse.

Youatt was summarily excused soon after.

Next up was Marti Howe, a retired former executive assistant of Simon, tasked with creating her calendars and agendas for 10 years, including May 2014.

Teter asked Howe where her calendar states Simon was May 19, 2014, and Howe responded that the calendar states she was in a meeting with Russell. Howe also identified a notation on the agenda “COM (College of Osteopathic Medicine), both issues, court cases” as being Simon’s handwriting.

Finally, Teter introduced dozens of other agendas for meetings between Russell and Simon over a number of years to try to establish a pattern of the two discussing the Office of Civil Rights investigation into many universities around the country, including MSU. Simon’s attorneys objected to these other agendas being included, but they were allowed.

Teter finished his questions to Howe before court recessed for the day.

The hearing will resume June 11 with the defense’s cross-examination of Howe.

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