A recent ruling in the state Superior Court could narrow the chances of conviction for three former Penn State administrators accused of covering up sexual abuse perpetrated by Jerry Sandusky, according to several attorneys.
On Dec. 26, the Superior Court tossed out the conviction of Monsignor William J. Lynn, who was the first Catholic Church administrative official convicted of endangering the welfare of children abused by other priests.
But the intermediate court found that Monsignor Lynn should not have been charged as a principal under the pre-2007 child endangerment statute because he was not the direct supervisor of any of the alleged victims.
In 2007, the state Legislature expanded the endangerment statute so that it can be applied to include not only a parent, guardian or "other person" supervising a child, but also to someone who employs or supervises such a person.
The three former PSU administrators -- former university president Graham Spanier, former vice president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley -- have been charged with endangering the welfare of children, failure to report, conspiracy, perjury and obstruction of justice. The charges stem from incidents of abuse perpetrated by Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach, in 1998 and 2001, incidents that were allegedly reported to the administrators.
Michael J. Engle of Greenblatt, Pierce, Engle, Funt & Flores said the charges in the Lynn case mirror the endangerment charges that have been filed against the Penn State defendants, and the Superior Court's reasoning behind tossing the Lynn case could apply to the Penn State administrators.
"Given the language the Superior Court used and the way it interpreted [the statute] and described its application, a very strong argument could be made by the defense," he said. "Not everyone is going to have those duties that the statute makes criminal if you violate them. I can't imagine how those three defendants won't be successful in arguing that."
The success of that argument, however, would depend on whether the state Supreme Court agrees to hear the Philadelphia district attorney's office's appeal of the Superior Court's ruling on Monsignor Lynn.
"That issue may not be final certainly, if the Supreme Court decides to hear that," said Matthew Mangino, a former district attorney for Lawrence County and now a practicing criminal defense attorney. "But ultimately those charges may not be appropriate in the Penn State case."
Due process requires criminal statutes to be interpreted strictly so individuals are on notice of what conduct is prohibited, said Ellen C. Brotman of Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads.
"I think the court's decision is well grounded in the statute and has clear implications for the Penn State defendants," Ms. Brotman said.
Joe Peters, a spokesman for state Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane, said the state is analyzing the decision in the Lynn case to evaluate any potential impact.
"Whatever the outcome, we are confident in our prosecution going forward. In the publicly filed documents, we have alleged conduct post-2007 when the legislative changes were made to the statutes," he said.
"Even if it is ultimately determined that the Monsignor Lynn decision would put a charge in our case in jeopardy, we still have conduct post-2007 and are prepared to go forward with our case in court."
Max Mitchell: email@example.com or 215-557-2354. Read more stories like this at www.legalintelligencer.com.