Court to hear Freeh appeal arguments in Spanier vs. Freeh lawsuit
May 20, 2014 11:50 PM
By Mark Dent / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- When Jerry Sandusky was convicted on 45 counts of child sexual abuse nearly two years ago, that concluded only one part of the scandal. Many other matters remain to be decided in the courts.
The latest legal step takes place today in a Philadelphia courtroom where a Pennsylvania Superior Court panel will hear arguments from lawyers for former Penn State president Graham Spanier and Freeh report author Louis B. Freeh about whether Mr. Spanier's defamation suit against Mr. Freeh should remain delayed, as the Centre County Court of Common Pleas has ruled.
Mr. Spanier's case is not the only one. Three other prominent civil suits related to the scandal are working their way through the court system -- and that number does not include the nearly $60 million in settlements reached by Penn State with 26 Sandusky victims, or the pending criminal trial of Mr. Spanier, and former Penn State administrators Gary Schultz and Tim Curley.
In addition to the Spanier v. Freeh defamation suit, former assistant football coach Mike McQueary is suing Penn State in a whistleblower case, state Sen. Jake Corman and state Treasurer Rob McCord are suing the NCAA to keep the $60 million fine that was levied on Penn State in Pennsylvania, and the Paterno family and a group including Penn State trustees and professors and former Penn State football coaches and players are suing the NCAA and Penn State.
Mr. Spanier's case so far is almost a blank slate. He filed a defamation suit against Mr. Freeh and his former law firm Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan last July but has not expressed specific complaints. In the Freeh Report, Mr. Freeh concluded Mr. Spanier helped conceal Sandusky's child sexual abuse.
In February, Judge Jonathan D. Grine ruled that Mr. Spanier could delay the suit through the duration of his criminal trial. In the order, Judge Grine wrote that he granted the stay in part because of the likely overlap between the civil case and Mr. Spanier's criminal case. He wrote that Mr. Spanier and other important witnesses might choose to invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination rather than speak in depositions if the criminal case had not concluded, not allowing enough information to be collected for the civil suit.
Mr. Freeh's counsel petitioned the Superior Court for an expedited appeal process for the delay. It was granted last month, and a panel of three judges will make a decision. Robert Heim, a lawyer representing Mr. Freeh, said the criminal trial for Mr. Spanier -- for which no date has been set -- could take years to complete.
"In the meantime, allegations that we believe to be frivolous about Judge Freeh and the Freeh report remain outstanding while Dr. Spanier continues to reiterate those charges publicly in various fora," Mr. Heim said.
"The way to deal with frivolous lawsuits is to take them up on their lack of merits, but we cannot do that until the court requires him to set forth his allegations rather than just make a generalized charge."
Elizabeth K. Ainslie, Mr. Spanier's lawyer, did not respond to interview requests.
The McQueary v. Penn State case has not featured any court filings since last fall.
A few months earlier, Mr. McQueary had secured an important victory when Judge Thomas G. Gavin ruled the case could proceed on Mr. McQueary's original claims.
Last month, Commonwealth Court upheld a law that required fines against state higher education institutions of $10 million or greater to be paid in state. The NCAA had argued the law was unconstitutional and constructed as special legislation for the Penn State fine.
The court also called into question the binding consent decree Penn State signed with the NCAA when it accepted sanctions in July 2012. The NCAA maintains the validity of the consent decree and that funds from the fine should be dispersed nationwide.
"Both Penn State and the NCAA agreed to the terms of the consent decree and continue to maintain that it is a valid agreement that has made the University stronger," said Donald Remy, chief legal officer of the NCAA, in a statement. "The NCAA is a national association, child sexual abuse is a national problem, and some of Jerry Sandusky's victims were residents of states other than Pennsylvania. Accordingly, the NCAA entered into the consent decree with the intention that the endowment funds be distributed on a national basis, regardless of their location."
A hearing for Paterno et al v. the NCAA took place on Monday. No decision was reached, but the Paterno side remains confident the discovery process could lead to important details regarding communications between the NCAA, the Freeh group, Penn State and others.
"This is really important for everyone who cares about the case and what the facts were," said Paterno family spokesperson Dan McGinn on Monday. "This is the venue where that's going to happen."
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