UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State University has been in the unusual position the past few months of defending itself from a lawsuit brought against it, in part, by its own trustees. Now, the university is about to face a lawsuit from someone who wanted to be a trustee.
Former state Rep. Jess Stairs filed a notice Tuesday in Centre County that he intends to sue Penn State and trustees Keith Masser and Betsy Huber regarding results of the board of trustees election of agricultural trustees.
Mr. Stairs is not seeking monetary damages. His lawyer, Dean Piermattei, said Mr. Stairs wants a resolution of a fair election process.
Mr. Stairs ran against incumbents Mr. Masser and Ms. Huber in the May elections. Mr. Masser was the leading vote-getter, and Ms. Huber edged Mr. Stairs by one vote. The agricultural societies have a different voting structure than the alumni elections. Rather than having alumni vote in a direct election, agricultural societies from each county select as many as three delegates to vote for candidates.
Mr. Piermattei said the results from Venango County were compromised. He said three delegates from Venango registered to vote for Mr. Stairs, and later three delegates also from Venango registered to vote for Mr. Huber. When more than three delegates are representing a county, they are required to form a caucus and decide which three delegates will represent that county, according to Penn State’s trustee voting rules. Mr. Piermattei said there was no caucus, and the delegates chosen were the three who voted for Ms. Huber.
On Tuesday, Ms. Huber and Mr. Stairs could not be reached for comment. Mr. Piermattei said Penn State had undertaken an investigation of the results with the conclusion that the results should stand. He said this lawsuit was Mr. Stairs’ last resort to get a “fair election process” after having run up “against the wall.”
Penn State released a statement saying, “The University believes that Mr. Stairs’ allegations are without merit. The University is very disappointed that Mr. Stairs has chosen this course of action and that it will be required to devote University resources to defending this litigation. Because this matter now is the subject of pending litigation, the University will have no further public comment.”
One of the other lawsuits Penn State is facing also has been developing in recent days. In the case of Paterno et. al. v. the NCAA and Penn State, the opposing sides dispute a component of a protective order.
The plaintiffs don’t want a blanket protective order, which would seal pretrial discovery materials in any forum other than trial preparation, and filed a motion last week. The Paterno lawyers wrote the public has “a keen interest in what happened in the investigations at Penn State and a right to access to the public process of court proceedings.”
The NCAA is seeking a protective order to seal the documents.
On Monday, Penn State filed a motion expressing the same. The university’s lawyers argued that the plaintiffs would otherwise attempt to conduct a “public relations campaign.”
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.