Attorney general says no judicial bias shown in Larry Nassar sentencing

The crimes and conviction of Larry Nassar (2:46)

Dan Murphy recounts the events that led to Larry Nassar, former physician for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, being convicted of criminal sexual conduct and child pornography charges. (2:46)

LANSING, Mich. -- The Michigan judge who sentenced Larry Nassar to up to 175 years in state prison might have made some inappropriate comments but not any that show judicial bias, according to the state's attorney general's office.

Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State team doctor convicted of sexually assaulting his former patients, is appealing the lengthy prison sentence he received in Ingham County, Michigan, in January 2018. His appeals of two other sentences -- 60 years in federal prison on child pornography charges and up to 125 years in Eaton County, Michigan, on sexual assault charges -- have already been denied.

His attorneys argued in court Tuesday that Judge Rosemarie Aquilina was not an impartial decision-maker based on comments she made during the seven-day sentencing hearing that drew international attention. They also said her actions after the hearing were further evidence that she showed bias.

"It was obvious from the beginning the judge was, in a sense, holding a political, social rally and she wanted to become the star of that rally," attorney Jacqueline McCann said Tuesday.

Aquilina sentenced Nassar to a minimum of 40 years and a maximum of 175 years in prison, which fell within the sentencing guidelines included in Nassar's plea deal.

McCann argued to a trio of appellate court judges that Nassar should receive a new sentencing hearing and that Aquilina should be disqualified from presiding over the case. Those judges have the option to dismiss Nassar's appeal, to grant him a new sentencing hearing or to send the case back to circuit court to have a different judge decide if a new sentence is necessary.

Aquilina praised survivors throughout the sentencing hearing in 2018 for their bravery and courage. She also spoke harshly to Nassar on several occasions. In one instance, she told Nassar that if the Constitution didn't prohibit cruel and unusual punishment she would "allow someone or many people to do to him what he did to others." In response to Nassar saying he was a good doctor, Aquilina told him she would not send her dogs to be treated by him.

Nassar submitted a letter to the court during his sentencing hearing saying he was manipulated by the attorney general's office and Aquilina into accepting a plea deal and punishment he did not feel was appropriate. Aquilina asked him if he wished to withdraw his plea before issuing her sentence. He declined. She told him that she had just signed his "death warrant."

After the hearing, Aquilina became an outspoken public advocate for sexual assault survivors. She spoke at forums, granted interviews to media outlets and posted about Nassar on social media -- including sharing on Twitter a political cartoon that depicts her in her black robe dangling a rat labeled "Dr. Nassar" above a garbage disposal.

Assistant solicitor general Christopher Allen, who argued to dismiss the appeal Tuesday on behalf of the attorney general's office, told the appellate court that while some of Aquilina's comments might have been ill-advised for a judge to make, they did not rise to a level of showing judicial bias that impacted his prison sentence.

"I'm not here today to justify everything the judge said. Some of them were inappropriate," Allen said. "... There are a handful of statements, the judge maybe should not have said those things, but best practice is not the same as reversible error."

A spokesman for the attorney general's office said there is no specific deadline for the appellate court to reach a decision. Some cases take less than a week to decide and others can go months before the appellate judges reach a decision.

Nassar, who is in a Florida prison serving his 60-year federal sentence, did not appear in court.