This blog post was written by Journalism senior Kaitlin Dudlets.
On February 13, nearly 60 Journalism students walked into the Veterans Memorial Courthouse in downtown Lansing. We filed through security, took a seat in the jury assembly room and eagerly awaited our Q&A with Judge Rosemarie Aquilina.
If the name sounds familiar, it’s because she was the Ingham County judge who sentenced former sports doctor Larry Nassar to 40-175 years in prison. Despite national networks contacting her regularly, our class was the first media group she spoke with since the sentencing.
News Media Law and Ethics
Just a week prior, we were sitting in a classroom in the ComArtSci building as Broadcast Journalist in Residence Bob Gould explained our field trip for the upcoming class period. Every year, he takes his JRN 430: News Media Law and Ethics class to the courthouse. Students speak to law clerks about various legal processes, like obtaining court documents and filing the paperwork that allows a journalist to bring a camera into the courtroom.
“It’s always a great way to get out of the classroom and to see something practical,” said Gould.
Coincidentally, the judge that normally speaks to his classes happened to be on vacation during the time of our visit, so the court put out a call for other judges to speak to our group. Aquilina sent Gould an email volunteering to host us — the same afternoon that she sentenced Nassar.
However, Gould failed to mention this until the last minute before class was dismissed. There was an audible gasp that passed through the room and we accused him of burying the lead. The excitement was tangible.
Chatting with Aquilina
When we arrived in the courtroom, we watched Judge Aquilina conduct another sentencing before speaking with us. While the defendant stepped out of the room briefly to confer with his lawyer, she handed out branded pencils that had a double-ended eraser on the end to mimic the shape of her gavel. We were delighted by this treasure, to say the least.
After the defendant, lawyers and police officer filed out as the sentencing concluded, Aquilina stepped from her bench to stand in front of the gallery to take questions. Her candor was both shocking and refreshing.
“I thought there would be more ground rules, but she was actually pretty candid and open about what she could talk about,” said Gould. “She was warm and welcoming and not afraid to answer anything.”
Students raised their hands to ask questions about the legal process, her personal feelings on the Nassar case and upcoming hearings regarding the MSU football players accused of sexual assault. Interestingly enough, we also learned that she was a journalism minor as an undergrad.
I used this as an opportunity to personally thank her for what she had done, not only for the victims, but for the entirety of the Spartan community. The way in which she handled the case was not only respectable but also inspirational, and it was an amazing opportunity to sit in her courtroom and shake the hand of the woman who made history.