If some woman, call her Rosemarie Aquilina, wants to rent a church or auditorium and spend her day sitting on a high-backed chair listening to women tell their stories of harm, some serious and some petty, some real and some imagined, then she should. But there is a fair chance that few would show up to bear witness to this woman.
Unless, of course, this wasn’t merely a random woman, but a judge. And not merely some unknown state judge, but the judge who became overnight-famous during the sentencing of Larry Nassar. How famous? Natalie Portman on Saturday Night Live famous.
Before the sentencing, Rosemarie Aquilina was merely a judge. For the most part, judges aren’t particularly cool people, celebrities. Sure, there’s Judge Judy, but she wasn’t really a judge anymore, but a daytime star playing a judge on TV for the benefit of the homebound and terminally unemployed.
Aquilina was a judge. An actual judge. And other than Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has become legend despite herself, efforts by women to elevate female judges to icon status for no better reason than genitalia hadn’t taken root. Finally, they had someone to adore. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina. And by all appearances, she enjoyed the attention and wants to keep it going, despite abdicating every responsibility of the position that made her matter.
Seven weeks after more than 150 victims of Larry Nassar testified before Judge Rosemarie Aquilina at a remarkable sentencing hearing in Michigan, other women from around the country are sharing stories of sex abuse with her.
And Aquilina thinks all of them deserve to be heard.
Earlier this month, she floated on Twitter the idea of holding a symbolic hearing where any survivor could bare their pain and anger and hear from the judge who became a hero of the #metoo movement and a meme in one shade-throwing moment.
But there’s a problem. Aquilina is still a judge. She’s not a star. She’s not a celebrity. She may be an icon of the #MeToo movement, and may well be the perfect choice for a TV show or a movie on the Oprah Network, but in the courtroom, she is merely a judge.
There are serious questions as to the propriety of her having heard victim impact statements from more than 150 people during Nassar’s sentence, given that he was only charged with seven counts. His plea agreement provided for it, but did the law provide authorization for a judge to hear and consider testimony outside the scope of the charges? Regardless, it happened.
But there is no longer a case before her. Sentence has been imposed, and her duty as judge in the prosecution of Larry Nassar has been completed. But her moment in the sun persists.
While it’s still only an idea, Aquilina told NBC News she is serious about trying to make it a reality.
“There is a need for victims who haven’t been heard to have a voice,” she said in an email this week.
“They want me to listen and I am certainly willing. It will help them to really begin healing. Further, the time to listen is now as the sexual assault issue against children, men and women moves forward and change is on the horizon, finally.”
Do they want private citizen Rosemarie Aquilina to listen? Will they be satisfied coming to a VFW Hall to tell their stories to a woman sitting in a folding chair in street clothes? Or do they want to stand up in a courtroom and speak to a robed judge sitting on her bench?
Praise for Aquilina’s handling of the Nassar hearing drowned out a smattering of criticism that she had overstepped her bounds or was grandstanding. Her fans were thrilled by the therapist-like message of empowerment she delivered to every victim and the tongue-lashings she gave the defendant.
Among the foremost complaints of the current administration, Trump’s ignorance of law, governance and the Constitution looms large. It’s matched by the praise of idiots for the performance of a government official outside the scope of her authority. It’s not that there aren’t good reasons why the victims of Larry Nassar, and others, deserve to be heard, deserve “justice” by way of catharsis. It’s that their needs can’t be met by a judge. Or more to the point, shouldn’t be met by a judge, who derives her authority under law.
Rosemarie Aquilina isn’t a therapist. She’s not free to do whatever she pleases, whatever makes her loved and appreciated by the women who continue to seek her ear. She cannot use a public courtroom, a public bench, a public office, for whatever purpose strikes her fancy, no matter how passionately those who have no clue what a judge does would deem their needs and desires to demand otherwise.
To what end?
Is her next gig presiding over a kind of People’s Court for the #timesup generation? The judge is quick to stress that a lot of pieces need to fall into place before that ambition is realized. The one thing she’s sure of: just as she did with the Nassar victims, she would sit on the bench until everyone had their say.
“I would stay as long as it took,” she tweeted to a follower recently.
If that’s what she wants to do, that’s great. Just not in a robe. Not in a courtroom. Not as a judge.
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.
The role of judge is limited by impartiality. It is not to be the champion of women, of victims, no matter how it affects one’s popularity. Judge Aquilina’s impartiality was shredded as her popularity spiked. But this latest scheme, to advance her status as female icon despite there being no case before her, no jurisdiction, no authority, is unacceptable from a judge. She has abdicated her official role in favor of public adoration.
All of this would be fine, great really, if she “holds court” in a meeting room at the local Holiday Inn Express, but not as a judge. And if she isn’t a judge, would there be any reason for these victims to tell her their story?