Penn State cover-up case may soon see action
HARRISBURG – Jerry Sandusky was convicted and sentenced and lost an appeal, but the related prosecution of three former Penn State administrators accused of covering up child sex-abuse complaints about the former assistant football coach remains in legal limbo – a status that could soon change.
The judge overseeing the criminal case against Graham Spanier, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz said last week he was making plans that will return the case to the public’s eye.
“We’re going to try to get on track for later this summer,” Dauphin County Judge Todd Hoover said in a brief interview in his Harrisburg chambers. “When we’re doing these things, everybody will have plenty of notice about what we’re dealing with.”
Hoover said he was not referring to the issue at the heart of a brief open-court hearing in December – a dispute over what occurred when the three men appeared with Penn State’s then-general counsel Cynthia Baldwin to testify before the grand jury investigating Sandusky three years ago, as well as Baldwin’s own subsequent grand jury testimony.
Spanier, the former university president; Curley, who had been athletic director; and Schultz, former vice president for business and finance, have argued they believed Baldwin was acting as their attorney and that her actions deprived them of their right to legal representation.
Despite voluminous court filings surrounding the dispute, it remains unclear exactly what aspects Hoover will decide, but how he rules will have profound implications for the direction of the case. Hoover could decide the defendants’ legal rights were so badly violated that charges should be thrown out.
“It does seem unusual to me that it’s taken five months to rule on this issue that, in a fairly high-profile case, you’d think would go to the top of the docket,” said Duquesne University School of Law professor Wes Oliver, who has followed the Sandusky scandal closely.
“If this were the Jerry Sandusky case and it were dragged on for this long, people would be up in arms,” Oliver said.
Sandusky, a Washington native, was arrested in November 2011 and went to trial the following June, a timetable so short that it drew complaints from his own defense team and formed an element of his unsuccessful appeal in state court. The former defensive assistant coach under Joe Paterno is serving a 30- to 60-year sentence at SCI-Greene for the sexual abuse of 10 boys but maintains his innocence.
There are several reasons why the former administrators’ prosecution has moved much more slowly than Sandusky’s.
Cumberland County prosecutor Dave Freed, who leads the state district attorneys’ association, said issues raised by the matter involving Baldwin, a former state Supreme Court justice and university trustee, appear to be so unusual that the judge may have to research legal precedent in other states to guide him.
“I think anyone who’s remotely observed what’s going on in the past few years would acknowledge that this is an unprecedented situation,” Freed said. “I’m not questioning the legal basis of the tactics, but the plain fact is, there’s been a lot of motions and lot of pretrial litigation.”
Most defendants do not have access to the type of criminal defense the former administrators can afford. A university spokesman said those costs have been funded through Penn State’s insurance.
Another factor is that Curley and Schultz were initially charged along with Sandusky, but a year later, state prosecutors added new charges and for the first time charged Spanier with similar counts.
There are also questions about whether the charge of failing to report suspected child abuse applies to the three.
Their case raises issues similar to that of Monsignor William Lynn, a Philadelphia Archdiocese official whose 2012 child endangerment conviction was thrown out last year on appeal after his lawyers argued the law should not apply because Lynn was never legally responsible for any individual child’s welfare.
“Outsiders and the public and the media want to see a case as a reflection of something larger, but for the most part, it isn’t — it’s about the very peculiar detailed facts of that particular case, and things happen that outsiders don’t understand because they don’t know all the details,” said Schultz’s attorney, Tom Farrell.
Curley’s lawyer, Caroline Roberto, said it’s not unusual for high-profile, complicated criminal cases to take two years to get to trial.
“I think what really causes people to take issue with our case, or raises some questions about the timing, is that for all intents and purposes, nothing happened in the Curley and Schultz case from November 2011 to November 2012,” Roberto said. “And that was a decision made by the commonwealth, frankly, because they were still investigating.”
The attorney general’s office and Liz Ainslie, Spanier’s attorney, both declined to comment for this story.