Judicial excess in Nassar case

The crimes committed by Larry Nassar are the despicable and depraved acts of a vile sexual predator. The loathing of Nassar and a belief that even the sentence of up to 175 years in prison that he received this week isn’t enough are entirely appropriate responses to the heinous violation of hundreds of girls that he engaged in over many years as the physician for the US gymnastics team. But none of that, say several legal voices, justifies the judge in the case turning herself into a media spectacle, a fierce advocate for victims, ally of the prosecution, and tribune for the thirst for vengeance that a horrific case like this naturally generates.

By the close of Wednesday’s sentencing of Nassar, even the most poignant victim impact statements given over the course of several days in a Michigan courtroom had been eclipsed by the jarring words offered by Judge Rosemarie Aquilina. In handing down the sentence, she told Nassar with evident pleasure, “I just signed your death warrant.”

“She presided over an important sexual abuse case involving well-known and eloquent victims at a time when the nation is just starting to come to grips with the extent of our society’s sexual victimization of women and girls,” writes Andrew Cohen in The New Republic. But he says Aquilina completed abdicated her responsibilities as a judge and the constitutional protection that “guarantees that even the most heinous defendants among us are entitled to a fair trial before an impartial judge.”

Rachel Marshall, a public defender in Oakland, California, says much the same thing in a piece for Vox. “Our nation’s constitutional principles remain deliberately very distinct from biblical notions of ‘an eye for an eye,’ but her statement had a clear Old Testament flavor,” she says of the judge’s remarks. “Throughout the proceedings, which were televised, Aquilina essentially transformed herself into a champion for a movement. It is understandable to feel empathy for previously voiceless victims, especially ones whose testimony took such bravery. But there are crucial distinctions between judge and advocate, and she traversed those lines repeatedly.”

Writing for WBUR’s Cognoscenti, Andrew Grainger, a retired associate justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court, says: “Even the vilest criminal defendant among us should be tried and sentenced before a judge who doesn’t gloat, doesn’t boast, and doesn’t appear to be auditioning for celebrity status.” The principles of dispassionate justice system were “degraded and diminished” by her actions, he writes.

In her sentencing remarks, Aquilina said: “Our Constitution does not allow for cruel and unusual punishment. If it did, I have to say, I might allow what he did to all of these beautiful souls—these young women in their childhood—I would allow someone or many people to do to him what he did to others.”

Words like that, which may be entirely understandable sentiments if offered by victims, should be seen as chiling when they come from a judge, says Cohen.

“It is possible to see Nassar as a despicable man who did despicable things, a man who deserves the sentence he has received, and see his judge as someone who abdicated her responsibility to him,” he writes. “These are not inconsistent beliefs. My point is that no defendant in America, no matter his crime, deserves to have his sentencing judge encourage or suggest that he ought to be killed or raped in prison. Such vitriol turns the proceeding from the reasoned expression of community values as expressed in law to little more than a lynch mob.”

–MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

The state Group Insurance Commission, facing blistering attacks from public employee unions and Beacon Hill leaders — including a miffed governor who appointed its members — will revisit its decision to reduce the number health insurance plans available to state and municipal employees who receive coverage through the agency. (Boston Globe)

The Senate Ethics Committee agrees to rubber-stamp any subpoenas sought by the law firm hired to investigate Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, which means the identity of any witnesses will remain confidential. (State House News)

Sen. Linda Forry, the first woman of color to hold the Dorchester, Mattapan, and South Boston seat in the state Senate — and its only current black member — is stepping down to take a job at Suffolk Construction. Just weeks ago she had indicated she wanted the job of Senate president. (State House News)

A Herald editorial says Gov. Charlie Baker’s budget, including his renewed push for changes to MassHealth, offers a sensible spending plan.

The Senate approved the “NASTY Women Act, which repeals abortion laws that are ignored but still on the books. (MassLive)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

City Councilor Michelle Wu wants Boston to consider charging a fee for residential parking permits as a way to tamp down the crush of cars looking for on-street parking, but one Charlestown neighborhood leader says such a change would prompt strong protest. (Boston Herald)

A simmering feud between members of the Middleboro Board of Selectmen continued when the chairman filed a complaint accusing another member of violating the state’s Open Meeting Law by sending an email discussing policy. (The Enterprise)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Trump reportedly ordered the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller last June but backed down after the White House chief counsel threatened to quit. Trump, in Switzerland for a meeting of heads of state, labeled the report “fake news.” (New York Times)

US Rep. Joseph Kennedy III will deliver the Democratic Party response to President Trump’s State of the Union speech next week. (Boston Globe)

A Herald editorial rips former secretary of state John Kerry over reports that he offered, in a meeting with a Palestinian official, to coordinate an alternative Middle East peace process. And the idea, floated in the same interview, that Kerry might consider a 2020 presidential run gives Howie Carr a column that practically writes itself, with favorite Kerry zingers dusted off for reuse. (Boston Herald)

A California lawmaker has filed a bill that would allow people at risk of committing suicide to anonymously and confidentially submit their names to a gun registry to prevent them from buying a gun to kill themselves. (U.S. News & World Report)

ELECTIONS

Secretary of State Bill Galvin, who oversees state election laws and faces a reelection challenge from Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim, who has criticized him over state policy on voting access, is proposing to allow same-day voter registration in Massachusetts, a change advocates have been pushing for years. (Boston Globe)

Republican Rep. Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania, who used taxpayer funds to settle sexual harassment allegations made by a former aide, said he won’t run for reelection. (New York Times)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The American Red Cross forced a top executive to resign amid allegations against him of sexual harassment and rape by subordinates but then he led him land a job at Save the Children foundation without sharing his background. (ProPublica)

A Quincy city councilor has introduced a measure to limit the number of vehicles a used car dealership can have on its lot, saying many of the city’s 65 dealers have become “eyesores” because of aging and rusting cars. (Patriot Ledger)

Unless the state quickly gains access to a broadband network it spent $90 million building, US District Court Judge Timothy Hillman is threatening to start imposing fines on the company causing the delays. (Berkshire Eagle)

EDUCATION

Latino leaders and organizations are pushing for the selection Angelica Infante-Green as the state’s next education commissioner. Infante-Green, the daughter of immigrants from the Dominican Republic and a deputy commissioner in New York state, is one of three finalists for the job who will be interviewed today by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. (Boston Globe)

Three hockey coaches at Andover High School are under suspension by the school and being investigated by the state Department of Children and Families for allegations that they withheld water and food from school’s boys hockey team after team losses; a student manager for the team says the charges are false. (Boston Herald)

Former US education secretary John King used his own personal life story to show that poverty and other barriers to learning can be overcome. (CommonWealth)

Massachusetts is one of 43 states to receive a failing grade in a report from an advocacy group for failing to protect students from for-profit colleges that close their doors or fail to fulfill their promises. (State House News Service)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Seventeen public health schools in the US and Canada pledge not to accept grant money from a new anti-smoking foundation backed by Philip Morris. (Associated Press)

TRANSPORTATION

A Lowell Sun editorial said the MBTA shouldn’t get stuck with the bulk of the costs for commuter rail service to New Hampshire.

Construction of high-speed rail between San Francisco and Los Angeles balloons billions over budget. (Governing)

Keller@Large, the official scold of the Bay State, said it should come as no surprise we rank near the bottom in a report of the worst states to drive in but says one area we can improve but was not measured is road rudeness.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The Baker administration selected Northern Pass as the winner of an enormous clean energy procurement. A joint project of Hydro-Quebec and Eversource Energy, Northern Pass is the clean energy play that environmental groups don’t like. (CommonWealth)

A new China policy is wreaking havoc with the recycling industry, making it difficult to find buyers for waste paper and other scrap materials. State officials have even allowed some recyclables to be burned or buried. (CommonWealth) Some local communities are cracking down on what can be tossed in the recycling bin. (Salem News)

The deed filed for the purchase of the shuttered Brayton Point power plant in Somerset shows the sales price as $8.5 million, about 1/20th the value of the assessment by the town which could lead to a tax abatement. (Herald News)

Sandwich officials are seeking permission from state and federal environmental and marine agencies to use sand from Scusset Beach on the mainland side of the Cape Cod Canal to replenish constantly eroded areas of Town Neck Beach. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A former clinician in Pittsfield’s drug court is suing Judge Thomas Hestes saying she lost her job after complaining about his sexual advances. (Berkshire Eagle)

Gov. Charlie Baker congratulated a new class of State Police recruits — and cautioned them to stay on good behavior at all times. The agency has been the focus of several controversies of late involving allegations of wrongdoing by officers. (Boston Herald)

MEDIA

Round 1 in the ratings fight between the new and former NBC affiliate in Boston goes to the former. (Boston Globe)

The cover of Vanity Fair’s Hollywood issue is causing quite a stir, not only because Oprah Winfrey has three hands and Reese Witherspoon has three legs, but because James Franco was edited out after sexual harassment allegations surfaced against him. (Hollywood Reporter)