Penn State to pay $59.7 million in Sandusky settlements to 26 accusers
October 28, 2013 10:49 PM
By Jonathan D. Silver / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
For more than a year Penn State University strove to do what its president called "the right thing" -- settling with the sexual abuse victims of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky without dragging them through a trial.
On Monday, after long months of intense negotiations involving numerous lawyers in several states, the university announced that it had met a milestone by agreeing to pay nearly $60 million to 26 men.
"We hope this is another step forward in the healing process for those hurt by Mr. Sandusky, and another step forward for Penn State," university president Rodney Erickson said in a statement. "We cannot undo what has been done, but we can and must do everything possible to learn from this and ensure it never happens again at Penn State."
Attorneys for the claimants described relief and satisfaction on the part of their clients but noted that Sandusky's abuse left scars that will not easily be eradicated.
"By taking this action and making Penn State effectively step up, they in some ways regained their power," said Jeff Anderson, a lawyer in St. Paul, Minn. who represents two claimants. "For them it was a mixed conclusion. They recovered some of their power but also the wounds they have are so wide and deep, the work that is yet to be done in recovery is going to be long, hard and rocky."
At least some of the payments have started coming, according to Philadelphia attorney Tom Kline, who represented the man known as Victim 5 in the criminal case against Sandusky.
"I cashed one of the checks," Mr. Kline said. "The checks are written on the Penn State checkbook, literally."
Sandusky was convicted in June 2012 of charges related to sexually abusing 10 young men and sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison.
Although his victims and purported victims were spared a trial, they nonetheless relived painful moments during the settlement process.
Lawyer Michael K. Rozen of Feinberg Rozen LLP, the firm hired by the school to handle negotiations, met personally with claimants represented by multiple firms.
"In some instances we had him meet our clients himself and had him ask whatever questions he wanted to ask them," said Philadelphia attorney Matt Casey, whose firm, Ross Feller Casey LLP, had seven claimants, including Sandusky's adopted son and Victim 2, the boy that Sandusky was charged with assaulting in the Penn State locker room shower.
Several of Mr. Casey's clients came face to face with Mr. Rozen in a conference room on the firm's 34th floor, with its sweeping view of Philadelphia.
Mr. Casey said he wanted the person on the other end of the negotiations to "see for himself the pain that in many cases was written on the faces of the person, the young man, sitting across the table from him. It was our job to show Penn State who these young men were and what they had gone through, what it's wrought in their lives."
Mr. Casey and Mr. Rozen described the meetings as intense.
"While he was very sympathetic ... they knew he was not there to help them. That wasn't his role, that wasn't his job. He was representing Penn State. He had questions for them. It was both emotional and really impressive to see these men explain in very personal terms what had happened to them, to someone who was their adversary in the case."
Mr. Rozen was sober in his description of the meetings with claimants.
"I have a great deal of sympathy for the victims, as anybody would. And in some instances it really helped us try to evaluate things and it helped them, I hope, in being able to talk through things in what may be a cathartic kind of way, to whatever small extent that may be."
The overarching framework of the settlement was hardly a secret. For months information had leaked out in piecemeal fashion, primarily from defense attorneys, that revealed the maximum amount Penn State was authorized to spend, how many men had filed claims, and the fact that some individual settlements had been resolved.
But it wasn't until all the moving parts in a very complex legal machine were finally in alignment that Penn State confirmed the agreements it had reached -- and those it hadn't.
Although 26 people will get $59.7 million -- with three of those claims still being finalized -- another six claims were up in the air.
About half were rejected as being without merit, according to Mr. Rozen. The rest are under discussion.
Some of the rejected claims were not reliable because the purported victim presented a different "fact pattern."
"Sandusky tended to do things in a similar way to all his victims," Mr. Rozen said.
As news of the settlements broke, Penn State let its attorneys do all the talking beyond what its new release said.
David La Torre, a university spokesman, declined to address a detailed list of questions about the settlement agreements, which have confidentiality clauses built in to shield the dollar figure of the individual settlements.
Also built into the settlements are agreements for the claimants not to sue anyone else.
Penn State said the settlements will not be funded by student tuition, taxpayer funds or donations. The school will seek to be compensated through insurance policies and by pursuing its own claims against, for instance, Sandusky's Second Mile charity.
"They're not going to make 100 percent recovery," Mr. Rozen said of Penn State.
Jonathan D. Silver: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1962 or on Twitter @jsilverpg.