Panned Sandusky lawyer Amendola is respected by colleagues
Joseph Amendola, the defense attorney for accused child sex abuser Jerry Sandusky, speaks to reporters on the front lawn of the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte.
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BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- Joseph Amendola stood in front of a mass of local, state and national reporters gathered outside the Centre County courthouse on Tuesday and appeared at ease.
He apologized for arriving late after initially driving away with his client, former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, minutes after the man waived the most sought-after preliminary hearing in many years in the Keystone State.
As reporters leveled a barrage of questions at him, Mr. Amendola stopped the chaos and instead called on people individually, even in some cases by name. If he couldn't hear, he stepped away from the lectern and toward the person so he could be sure to understand what had been asked.
Mr. Amendola was folksy, sometimes even joking. But that same attorney, who showed so much decorum in conducting his news conference, is also known for aggressively cross-examining rape victims in court, and nine years ago he married a woman 31 years his junior.
His personality seems to be a mass of contradictions. Mr. Amendola -- whom colleagues describe as reserved, quiet and even having the personality of a life-insurance salesman -- is known to heartily challenge the claims of rape victims on cross-examination and once brought a toddler into court to illustrate a point that his client, a former prison counselor who became pregnant by an inmate, should be acquitted.
"This is the prosecution's evidence," he said, according to an article in the Centre Daily Times. "If Sara Craig would have aborted her child, the commonwealth wouldn't have any evidence."
The woman was convicted and then sentenced to probation.
"Every client is different. Every set of facts is different," said former Centre County District Attorney Michael Madeira, who's had dozens of cases with Mr. Amendola. "He has the ability to strategize based on the strengths and weaknesses of the prosecution's case and on the strengths and weaknesses of his own client."
In the case of the Commonwealth v. Jerry Sandusky, Mr. Amendola's tactics have been questioned by pundits and media observers since the beginning.
He was heavily criticized for allowing Mr. Sandusky to be interviewed by NBC's Bob Costas just days after a grand jury returned a 40-county presentment accusing the former coach of sexually abusing eight boys.
Then, in a surprise move Tuesday, Mr. Amendola told Senior Magisterial District Judge Robert E. Scott that his client was waiving his preliminary hearing. In return, Mr. Amendola later said, he will receive the evidence against Mr. Sandusky more quickly and was assured the prosecution would not seek an increase in his client's bond.
In the weeks since Mr. Sandusky was first arrested, Mr. Amendola has been deluged with calls. Though it was often difficult to reach him by phone, he often returned emails. In some cases, Mr. Amendola forwarded his statements for other media outlets to reporters elsewhere in an attempt to also answer their questions.
At the same time, he has been highly critical of the reporters covering the case, accusing the media of convicting his client before the case even gets to trial.
He speaks passionately about Mr. Sandusky's case and what he perceives as a conspiracy against the man. On Tuesday, Mr. Amendola repeatedly questioned the logic of how there could have been so many well-respected people at Penn State -- including former Coach Joe Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president Gary Schultz -- who knew of allegations that Mr. Sandusky raped a young boy in the shower but never did anything about it.
"It makes absolutely no sense," he said.
He's also not afraid to take shots at the prosecution.
On Tuesday, he went on about the attorney general's decision to go out and physically arrest Mr. Sandusky when a grand jury returned a second presentment alleging two new victims last week. Mr. Amendola questioned the necessity when his client had been cooperative all along.
The 63-year-old lawyer called it a "dog and pony show."
"Jerry Sandusky maintains his innocence, and we're going to fight like hell for him," he declared, almost in a rallying cry.
Because of intense media interest, Mr. Amendola's personal life has been scrutinized, as well. According to records in the Centre County courthouse, he had a child with a 17-year-old girl when he was 49. He married the woman five years later. They now have two children, who are 14 and 9. Mr. Amendola filed for divorce last year, saying simply that the marriage was "irretrievably broken" and that his wife, Mary Amendola, had rendered his condition "intolerable and life burdensome."
He has asked for primary physical custody, and Mrs. Amendola is challenging that. In an attempt to protect marital assets, she also filed a request to have the court stop him from selling his baseball collection, which he previously told her was valued at $100,000.
Mr. Amendola, who drives a black BMW X5 sport-utility vehicle with a vanity plate that reads JLA ESQ, lives in a tony development in Boalsburg, filled with large, expensive homes. He went to Penn State undergrad and Georgetown law.
His law office, inside an office complex in State College, is unassuming. In the front reception area on Wednesday, a small wreath hung with a blue Penn State stocking inside.
Much as his reputation among the defense bar is good, the same can be said among law enforcement officers.
Darrel Zaccagni, a retired detective from Bellefonte who now works with the Centre County sheriff's office, called Mr. Amendola "a class act.
"He knows his stuff. He doesn't get obnoxious," Mr. Zaccagni said. "He treats everybody the same -- with dignity and respect."
Mr. Amendola's practice is exclusively criminal defense, and a large portion of it is sexual assault cases. Often, his strategy includes going after a victim's credibility or history -- much like he's doing in the Sandusky case.
Even though, as a prosecutor, Mr. Madeira said he'd sometimes cringe at those types of tactics, he's never thought badly of Mr. Amendola.
"I've dealt with attorneys who are beyond smarmy in attacking a victim," he said. "There's a difference between attacking a victim and questioning a victim's credibility."
Mr. Madeira described Mr. Amendola, who spent about three years as an assistant prosecutor in the Philadelphia district attorney's office, as "straightforward."
"I could do business with him on a handshake," he said.
Mr. Madeira recounted the high-profile case in 2007 involving sexual assault charges against former Penn State tailback Austin Scott. Mr. Amendola and attorney John J. Karoly successfully convinced the judge to allow evidence at trial about a man previously acquitted of raping the same woman.
Mr. Madeira ended up dropping the case and called Mr. Amendola a "pleasure to deal with, quite frankly, [even] when he does beat you."
Mr. Amendola, whose practice is busy, is one of the go-to attorneys in the area.
"He dresses sharp, and he doesn't advertise," Mr. Zaccagni said. "Everything is word of mouth."
Centre County Common Pleas Judge Thomas Kistler remembers having one month a few years ago where Mr. Amendola had three jury trials before him -- a rape case, a homicide and a vehicular homicide.
Jim Bryant, who was law partners with Mr. Amendola in the late 1970s, said his colleague is a high-priced attorney who chooses to not use strong-arm tactics.
"He's not a hammer. He's more of a life insurance salesman approach to things," Mr. Bryant said. "He'll listen to [his clients] and sympathize."
On certain types of cases, like when a witness' testimony may be in doubt, Mr. Amendola is the best in the area, he said.
"Professionally, he's a cut above the rest of the defense trial bar in the area."
First Published December 15, 2011 12:00 am