[WATCH] ‘Barracuda Aquilina’, the American-Maltese judge turned icon for women and survivors

Who is the judge with the Maltese surname who sent serial sex abuser Larry Nassar to 175 years in prison?

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina: “I stand up for people and say, ‘we’re going to do what’s right’.”
Judge Rosemarie Aquilina: “I stand up for people and say, ‘we’re going to do what’s right’.”

She is the daughter of a Maltese father and German mother, and she came to the United States with her parents as a toddler.

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, 59, this week sentenced Larry Nassar, a prominent doctor for the USA gymnastics national team, 175 years in prison after pleading guilty to multiple sex crimes.

But Aquilina’s role in the case is now being given prominence after having allowed nearly 140 girls and women, including several prominent Olympic gymnasts, to give statements against Dr Nassar, leaned forward from the bench.

“I just signed your death warrant,” Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said as she told him he would serve up to 175 years.

She listened patiently as survivors shared their stories of abuse during the multi-day-long sentencing. As the BBC reported: ‘At times acting as more of a therapist than a judge [she] did not hide her empathy for the women. “Leave your pain here,” she said. She said she had received media requests from around the world but insisted the story was not about her.’

Larry Nassar
Larry Nassar

Aquilina joined the military after having two children during law school and working for 10 years. Then she became the first female Judge Advocate General (JAG) in the Michigan Army National Guard where she earned the nickname ‘Barracuda Aquilina’. She has been described as “fighter” who doesn’t take no for answer: “I stand up for people and say, ‘we’re going to do what’s right’.”

When she sentenced a serial rapist to life in prison he swore he would “send someone to get her”.

Now a professor of law, Ms Aquilina was elected as a Circuit Court Judge in 2008 November.

When she determined that Detroit’s bankruptcy filing violated the state constitution, she sent a copy of her ruling to former President Barack Obama.

In her spare time, Judge Aquilina is also writer. She wrote a crime novel called Triple Cross Killer and her next book will be out soon. According to her online biography, she used to host a radio talk show called Ask the Family Lawyer.

In the New York Times, Aquilina was described as “an unusually fierce victims’ advocate in a sentencing hearing that has drawn national attention for the scope of Dr Nassar’s abuse.”

Her vow to let every victim speak turned the hearing into a cathartic forum that has emboldened dozens of women who had remained silent to come forward with accounts of abuse by Nassar.

She has made no secret that she wants Nassar to spend the rest of his life suffering in prison.

Stephen Gillers, a professor of law at New York University, said that although judges are often thought of as unbiased and impartial, it is important to remember that this is a sentencing hearing, not a trial.

Several victims thanked Judge Aquilina, including Doug Powell, whose daughter Kassie spoke out last week as one of Nassar’s many accusers. “Judge Aquilina, I applaud you,” Mr. Powell said after his daughter addressed the court. “We applaud you. This room applauds you.”