Judge Aquilina Narrates Audiobook Autobiography
Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina rose to national prominence as she handled the Larry Nassar sex abuse case. As a writer, she has tackled fiction as the author of three novels. Now, Judge Aquilina has published an autobiography called Just Watch Me, initially available only as an audiobook.
WKAR’s Scott Pohl talks with her about the project.
SCOTT POHL: You became something of a folk hero with your handling of the Larry Nasser trial, especially the way you allowed sister survivors to speak, and the things you said during sentencing. For some, that's all they know about you. Your audiobook autobiography goes all the way back to your childhood. What one aspect of your life, new to most people, do you hope folks will take away from listening?
JUDGE ROSEMARIE AQUILINA: That we all are made up of our past and you can't run away from it, you really need to embrace your past, learn from it and move forward.
POHL: We did an interview after the Nasser trial. The interview was about the thriller novels that you've published. You still weren't at liberty to discuss Nasser at the time. What has changed?
AQUILINA: Well, not a lot has changed. I'm still under appeal. The Court of Appeals heard arguments, I have no idea when they're going to make a decision about whether I was too mean or not, so there's some things I probably can't talk about. I can talk about those things that were on the record, but ultimately, I think that the important part or takeaway from all of that is that we all need to partner together to believe, to listen, and to help those who need it.
I always ask, and have my whole career, what would you like me to know, and how can I help? And I think that what the world saw in my courtroom was what I've always done, that was not unique to me, and I would have done the same thing whether the cameras were there or not. You can go back and Google me. And I've had a lot of media, I've had thousands of cases. Ask my court reporters for records. I've always done that, because they know the outcome is that people will tell me their story, what's troubling them when they haven't even told those closest to them. And that's really what happened in the Nasser case. They empowered themselves, and I think that really my message is that the power we have within us is unshakable when we stay true to ourselves. But, in order for that to happen, when you're talking with someone, you need to listen. You need to believe, and you need to be there for them. And we never should ask the "why" questions.
If you listen to me on the bench from day one to present day, I don't say why were you there, why were you wearing that, why didn't you tell me sooner, why didn't you tell anyone sooner? Why shames and blames, and why needs to retire into science. If you think about your own life, when you came home and your mother said why didn't you do your homework, why weren't you home on time? You shut down. Why didn't you make your bed? You shut down. You came up with some flimsy excuse and you get the heck out of there. You didn't tell her the truth. I had a stomachache, I didn't have a good night sleeping, I forgot my book, or whatever it is, so that they can help you. You're making up some excuse and getting out of there because you are blamed and shamed. We need to stop that, and I'm hoping to spread that message and really tell people that they can be their own hero and empower themselves and others.
POHL: I'm a reporter, I do ask "why" questions. And so, I'm going to ask you why the title Just Watch Me?
AQUILINA: Because throughout my life, I have been told no, you can't do that. Why do you think you can do that? And my response has always been, first of all, when you tell me no, I get stronger and tougher. And it's just watch me, and that's been my response my whole life. To any naysayer, I just say, just watch me. You might not be a believer today, but you just watch me. I'm going to prove you wrong. And so Audible said, you know, that really needs to be the title. It's come through, and I agree with them.
THE FIRST DAY OF THE NASSAR TRIAL
That morning, I needed as much caffeine as I could get my hands on, because it would be the first day of testimony where I would hear scores of young women, many of them gymnasts who were sexually abused by their once beloved, once revered doctor, Larry Nasser. I expected 80 young women to speak when the hearing first began, but the number would top 150. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, from her audiobook Just Watch Me
POHL: Having written and published three novels, tell me about the new challenge of writing nonfiction and writing about yourself.
AQUILINA: It's interesting because when I write fiction, I write about things I know, but it's fictionalized. I don't have to be as careful, and I can be very creative. You have to dig deep, and there were things I didn't want to look at, I didn't want to admit. It's really hard to talk about and develop a story about yourself that’s based on the truth and not hurt others and tell it in a way that people aren't going to get bored. You're not going overboard. You're not over explaining, you're not under explaining.
The hard part for me was the journey, going backwards and then forward through my life and feeling the pain going through the reflection, the analysis. That was difficult for me. I didn't think it would be difficult, but I have to say it was a whole journey inside of myself I didn't expect to take, but I think it was a good one.
I don't mind telling my story. I'm pretty much an open book. If somebody asked me a question I answered as honestly as I can. Rosemarie Aquilina
POHL: One final question: what's your vision for your future, both personally and professionally?
AQUILINA: That's a really good question. I'm exploring a lot of options. Of course, I have a lot of options that people present me all the time. I'm first and foremost committed to being a good mom for my kids, and a good example for them, and to do some work in the community, whether it's my community or a larger community.
I've been going out and doing motivational speaking and really looking at our justice system, which I think is broken and an injustice system. I will stay writing. I planned on and still plan on staying on the bench until I'm 74. I just won another six years and I'll have another six years after that before I have to retire. I will also though, however, do some creative things, some writing, maybe go farther into that field. And, I'm hoping to start a nonprofit to help people. I'm working on those kinds of things. So, still very community service-oriented, writing, and maybe some other creative avenues.
I don't predict the future. I wish I could, but I just explore every single day, and I'm using COVID as a positive, not a negative. I'm here helping my parents and my kids and I'm saving a couple hours a day that I don't have in getting ready and traveling, and doing other things. So, I'm actually finding that the positive of COVID is reconnecting with your family in a different way. Being creative and using your time more wisely because you have more of it.