Penn State lawyers seek speedy Sandusky settlements
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As the final hours of 2012 slipped away, so did Penn State University's goal of reaching settlements by the end of the calendar year with sex abuse victims of Jerry Sandusky.
But with talks planned anew this month, officials are expressing optimism that agreements with roughly two dozen young men can be reached in 2013 without drawn-out litigation.
"I think I'm looking at the first quarter of 2013. That's the new goal," attorney Kenneth Feinberg, whose firm was hired by the university to facilitate the talks, said by phone this week.
Penn State officials repeatedly have said they want closure for the victims of Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach. In assuming the chairmanship of Penn State's trustees board last year, Karen Peetz vowed not to bog down in court any victims who file lawsuits against the university, where some of the attacks occurred.
"We want fairness for them," she said at the time. "We want healing for them."
In September, the university hired Feinberg Rozen LLP, with offices in Washington, D.C., and New York City. The firm has helped resolve mass litigation stemming from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico; the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007; and the Massey coal mine explosion in West Virginia in 2010.
On Monday, Mr. Feinberg said the biggest difficulty right now, arguably, is handling the logistics of individual meetings with attorneys and claimants scattered around the country. Another complicating factor, he said, is that each has an interest in what deal the others are working toward.
"When you are facilitating or negotiating with roughly two dozen cases in which there are multiple lawyers looking over their shoulder as to what another claimant or another lawyer has negotiated, of course, it complicates things," he said.
"These are difficult, serious negotiations that are under way with very qualified lawyers involved, and the allegations have to be addressed."
Nevertheless, he reiterated his belief that the parties want to move as quickly as possible.
He said the individual meetings are at varying stages, with information and, in some cases, dollar figures being exchanged between the parties.
Penn State president Rodney Erickson, in a statement just before Christmas, said that even with the rollover of talks into the new year, he is pleased with the progress thus far.
Sandusky was convicted in June of 45 counts of child sex abuse spanning more than a decade. His arrest and scope of the allegations prompted the departure of top campus leaders, including late football coach Joe Paterno, and produced landmark sanctions last summer by the NCAA.
Former Penn State president Graham Spanier and two other university officials are facing criminal charges in connection with an alleged cover-up.
In October, Penn State trustees authorized a subcommittee to approve settlement payments with victims once agreements are reached. Penn State has said it will reveal the aggregate amount paid out, but not the figures for individual cases.
Ms. Peetz said in October that the board had not decided whether the public would be told when settlements are reached.
Mr. Feinberg said the victims and attorneys with whom he and attorney Michael Rozen are working have a variety of opinions on disclosure. "Some parties are insisting on confidentiality," he said. "Some others are arguing that it all ought to be disclosed."
First Published January 2, 2013 12:00 am