Former Michigan State University president  Lou Anna Simon has prevailed over charges that she lied about what she knew about serial sexual abuser Larry Nassar, with a judge ruling that prosecutors did not present sufficient evidence.

Eaton County Judge John Maurer on Wednesday dismissed charges against Simon, a move one lawyer called“a gut punch” to  hundreds of women abused by Nassar.

“The prosecution did not provide evidence sufficient to give a reasonable person probable cause to believe that Dr. Simon knew during her 2018 interview that her purported knowledge in 2014 of Dr. Nassar’s name and the ‘nature’ and ‘substance’ of the complaint against him” were relevant to the 2018 investigation, the judge said.

It was unclear if the Michigan Attorney General’s office planned to appeal the decision.

Simon, MSU’s first female president — who retired from MSU last August after 45 years — stepped down from her post as president in January 2018 under public pressure. Her departure from her post came in the middle of nine days of testimony by scores of women in two different courtrooms who said Nassar assaulted them while working as an MSU and USA Gymnastics physician.

Soon after, police interviewed Simon about what she knew.

Prosecutors had alleged Simon lied to police regarding the extent of her knowledge of allegations against Nassar,who is now imprisoned for life. .

Simon faced a preliminary hearing and was heading to trial after other high-profile leaders had faced consequenceslinked to Nassar..

Simon’s lawyer recently submitted a motion to quash the four charges and  Maurer dismissed them.

Lee Silver, Simon’s lawyer, hailed the move, saying the case should never have been brought against the longtime MSU president.

“In its 24-page opinion, the court carefully considered the evidence developed over the course of seven days of testimony and concluded that the case against her was built on nothing more than speculation and conjecture, and that the evidence was wholly inadequate to prove that any crime had been committed by Dr. Simon,” said Silver.

“The court’s ruling completely vindicates Dr. Simon and confirms what we have been saying from the day these charges were brought; namely, that there was not a shred of credible evidence to support these charges.”

But California-based lawyer John Manly, who represented scores of women abused by Nassar, said the court ruled that there was sufficient evidence to bind Simon over for trial, and her guilt or innocence should have been left to a jury.

“This is yet another failure of the justice system in the Nassar case,” said Manly.  “This is a gut punch by the judge to every survivor of Larry Nassar.”

He added that the decision lays bear a two-tiered justice system in the U.S. that treats the rich and powerful one way and others differently.

“The powerful and politically connected won this round,” Manly said. “However, I am very hopeful this will be appealed and that ultimately the survivors will prevail.”

Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar, called the ruling “deeply disappointing.” But she said that the dismissal highlights why MSU needed to do an independent, third party investigation but it failed to do it. 

“We already knew that a lot of the missteps were not going to be prosecuted and that is why we needed answers from a third party,” said Denhollander. “It highlights MSU’s lack of transparency and the continued insistence on a cover up.”

MSU spokesperson Emily Guerrant said the university would not comment.

“We are aware of the judge’s decision and, out of respect for the judicial process, we are not going to comment on the proceedings,” Guerrant said. “MSU remains committed to the changes needed that ensure a stronger, safer and more respectful campus community for all students, faculty and staff.” 

Sarah Klein, the first woman believed to be abused by Nassar, added that “beyond disturbing and quite frankly, despicable.”

“This ruling sends a message loud and clear to anyone in charge of a university that if you allow thousands of people to get raped on your campus that you can get away with it,” Klein said. “It is an insult to everyone’s intelligence who is familiar with this case.

“Not only did the cold, callous, calculating and cunning Simon allow Nassar to run wild, she presided over a culture at Michigan State that fostered rape and retaliation against people who spoke out,” Klein said. “Not only was she not fired, she was given a seven figure severance package. “

She said Nassar began abusing her when she was 8 years old and continued throughout her childhood and young adult life.

“It occurred thousands of times,” Klein said. “Simon was in a position to stop it and did nothing. We all know and are aware that Simon knew about Nassar and did nothing.” 

Simon was charged with two felony and two misdemeanor counts of lying to a peace officer related to whether she knew the content of allegations made against Nassar in 2014. The felony charges carried up to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Simon told police in May 2018 that she knew an MSU sports medicine doctor was “under review,” but knew “nothing of substance” beyond that, police have testified.

Reporter Robert Snell contributed.

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com

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