Suit: Penn State blocked fair election

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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: mdent@post-ga­, 412-439-3791 and Twit­ter @mdent05.

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