SW Michigan Today: Friday, August 3

Aug 3, 2018

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina explains sentencing guidelines to Larry Nassar during the seventh day of Nassar's sentencing hearing Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018, in Lansing.
Credit Carlos Osorio / AP Photo

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina will not step down from disgraced MSU sports doctor Larry Nassar's appeals case. The State Department of Environmental Quality is still testing residential water wells in Parchment. Several counties in the Upper Peninsula get a federal disaster declaration, and more.

 The State Department of Environmental Quality is still testing residential water wells in Parchment. That's after high levels of chemicals known as PFAS's were found in the city's water system. The DEQ says it has tested about 70 private wells so far. Its workers left notices at homes where no one answered the door, asking them to call to arrange a time for samples to be taken. Officials say all testing workers carry a blue ID card as a DEQ contractor. They say anyone claiming to be doing water tests without those cards is phony and should be reported by calling 911. The DEQ is also testing wells near a paper plant it says could be a source of PFAS contamination.

(Mlive) A disaster declaration for several counties in the Upper Peninsula that experienced devastating floods is expected to help with their recovery. MLive reports that President Donald Trump made the declaration for Gogebic, Menominee and Houghton counties today. That releases federal funds to local governments and qualified nonprofits. Roads were severely damaged in several areas of the U-P after heavy rain caused flooding earlier this summer.

(Gongwer) Teachers in Michigan might receive interest on money the state took out of their paychecks, if a Court of Claims ruling stands. The decision is one of a series of legal wrangles over a 2010 law that had school employees paying three percent of their earnings toward retiree health care costs. The state Supreme Court struck that law down last year, calling it unconstitutional. The Gongwer News Service reports that the amount of interest owed is still being worked out, but teachers’ unions say it could amount to hundreds of dollars per employee.

Kalamazoo County health officials say work continues to flush Parchment's water lines with water from the City of Kalamazoo because of the PFAS contamination. Officials say Parchment residents won't be connected to Kalamazoo's system until tests show that the new supply meets EPA guidelines for PFAS.

Kalamazoo is one of three Michigan cities getting large state grants to remove old lead water lines. The Gongwer News Service says Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, and Detroit will each get a million dollars. That's part of a $9.5 million-dollar pilot project. Fifteen other communities will get smaller grants. Kalamazoo is also using money from its privately funded Foundation for Excellence to step up replacement of lead water pipes around the city.

(MPRN) It’s now up to the chief judge of the Ingham County Circuit to decide if the judge who sentenced serial sexual abuser Larry Nassar acted inappropriately. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said Friday that she won’t step down in Nassar’s appeal. Nassar has asked to be resentenced by a different judge. Malaika Ramsey-Heath is one of Nassar’s attorneys. She says social media posts from Aquilina in support of Nassar survivors show the judge is biased.

“It is not a free for all once conviction has been entered for anyone to say or do anything especially the court where the case must come back," she said.

But Aquilina says that she can be both unbiased and an advocate for survivors. “Maybe I have not stated things perfectly, but I ask you to sit and listen for seven days to heartbroken children," she said.

The Ingham County Circuit Court chief judge will review the motion. 

(Before Judge Aquilina's decision on Friday) An Ingham County judge will decide Friday if she should hear an appeal by Larry Nassar, the former Michigan State University doctor who sexually assaulted his patients for decades. Nassar wants to be resentenced. But he says Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who sentenced him originally, should not hear his appeal. Nassar’s attorneys says Aquilina was biased during sentencing and that Nassar didn’t get a fair hearing. Aquilina received national attention when she allowed more than 100 abuse survivors to speak and said she was giving Nassar a "death sentence" because of the length of his prison term. The State Attorney General’s office says Aquilina was not personally biased against Nassar. It says if Aquilina was harsh, it was because of Nassar’s actions.

The number of people asking for absentee ballots in Michigan is up more than 50-percent from the 2014. The Secretary of State's office says the number of absentee ballots sent back is up by about 116,000 ahead of next Tuesday's primary. Mid-term elections usually see low voter interest but the spike in absentee voting could indicate a higher overall turnout this year. That's according to Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodams. He points to competitive primaries for governor and U.S. senate as possible reasons for the increase. Woodhams says voters have until 4 p.m. Monday to request an absentee ballot in person. They can be returned until 8 p.m. Tuesday.

The public will get a chance to meet the people hoping to become Battle Creek's next fire chief next week. The Battle Creek Enquirer says the five candidates will get public interviews on Wednesday, August 8. They'll give short presentations between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. at city hall. Two of the five are from Michigan. John Clark is the former chief of the Delta Township Fire Department in suburban Lansing. Gregory Ginebaugh is deputy chief of Kentwood's fire department near Grand Rapids. One of the five will replace former Battle Creek fire chief Dave Schmaltz, who resigned earlier this year.

A federal judge has thrown out Michigan's ban on straight-ticket voting. The Detroit Free Press says the ruling came in a legal challenge to the law passed by majority Republicans in Lansing in 2015. U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain says a ban on straight-ticket voting disproportionally affects African-Americans. And he says Republican lawmakers intended the law to discriminate against black voters, who often support Democrats. Drain says that violates the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause. The U-S Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of his decision earlier this year, so the injunction blocking the law becomes permanent.

A group that promotes Michigan's wine industry is broadening its focus. And the Detroit News says that has some winery owners worried. The Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council was created by the state in 1985. It's about to become the Michigan Craft Beverage Council and will also promote local breweries and businesses that sell Michigan-made spirits and ciders. Some wine industry officials say they're worried about getting lost in the process. But supporters of the change say craft brewers and other businesses need support too. Most of the council's budget goes to research rather than ad campaigns.

Four of the candidates hoping to be Michigan's next governor are sharing more than $2.3 million in taxpayer money. Republicans Bill Schuette and Brian Calley, and Democrats Gretchen Whitmer and Abdul El-Sayed all qualified for public campaign funding. The Gongwer News Service says Whitmer and El-Sayed have each received more than $900,000. Calley has received $265,000 while Schuette got $234,000. Democrat Shri Thanedar and Republican Jim Hines didn't ask for public funding. Both parties hold primary elections on Tuesday, August 7.

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