The inevitable civil lawsuits spawned by the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal that has rocked Penn State University may be the only way the truth about who knew what and when will ever see the light of day. Already, Penn State University has retained a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, based law firm, possibly in anticipation of the legal claims it will face from alleged Sandusky victims.
Sandusky, who served as an assistant football coach at Penn State until his retirement at the end of the 1999 season, was indicted earlier this month on 40 counts of sexually abusing 8 children over a 15 year period. Sandusky met his alleged victims through the Second Mile children’s charity he founded in 1977, but some of the assaults occurred on the Penn State main campus and on football trips where Sandusky was accompanied by a victim.
According to the grand jury report, despite the fact that several high ranking Penn State officials had received reports of Sandusky’s behavior, an assault that allegedly occurred on campus was not reported to police. That incident allegedly occurred in the locker room of the football building, and was witnessed by then graduate assistant coach, Mike McQuery, who walked in on Sandusky while he was allegedly raping a 10-year-old boy. McQuery reported the assault to head football coach, Joe Paterno, the next day. Paterno then told his superiors, but did not pursue the matter further. Those superiors spoke to Sandusky, and banned him from bringing children onto the Penn State main campus (though Sandusky himself was not banned from campus, and he was also allowed to run a youth football camp at a satellite campus for another six years).
Two Penn State officials, athletic director Tim Curley, and Gary Schultz, PSUâ€™s senior vice president for finance and business, have been charged with perjury and failure to report to authorities what they knew of the allegations, as required by state law in Pennsylvania. Both have resigned their positions with the university.
Paterno, who initially sought to retire at the end of this season (his 46th as head coach), was fired by the Penn State Board of Trustees last Wednesday. University president, Graham Spanier, was also relieved of his duties. McQuery has been placed on paid administrative leave.
According to a report from the Associated Press, Sandusky, the school, Paterno and other likely defendants would all face different levels and types of possible legal problems in civil court, depending on the evidence produced during discovery. In civil litigation, discovery generates much more information than in a criminal trial, because defendants are not guaranteed a right against self incrimination.
“You’re going to see everybody pointing at somebody else to try and get themselves out of it,” a Philadelphia lawyer who has who has represented victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic Priests, told the Associated Press. “When you’ve got 19, 20 kids coming out, saying ‘He did it, he did it,’ I don’t understand why anyone at Penn State in their right mind would say, ‘Let’s fight this.”
As we reported previously, at least two lawyers in Pennsylvania are already preparing civil suits against Penn State, even as prosecutors identify more of Sanduskyâ€™s alleged victims. One of the attorneys interviewed by the Daily Beast also said he expected more victims to come forward as they realize they are â€œnot alone.â€ The same attorney told ABC News that lawsuits could also include officials at Penn State â€“ including Paterno â€“ and The Second Mile who did not report Sanduskyâ€™s alleged assaults.
Since then, several other attorneys have reported that they are in contact with alleged Sandusky victims who plan to file civil lawsuits.
There is some speculation that Penn State might try to shield itself from lawsuits by claiming its status as a “state related” university shields it from liability. However, itâ€™s far from clear that the strategy would work, and pursing it would not help the universityâ€™s already-sullied reputation.
Considering the types of damning information that could come out of discovery during civil lawsuits, some legal experts told the Associated Press that Penn State might consider reaching out to victims in an effort to avoid lawsuits.
“New facts are going to come out, I’m sure, in the civil litigation,” One attorney told the Associated Press. “It’s one of the reasons that Penn State and the other potential defendants may decide to do whatever they can to prevent that from happening, and people going under oath. It’s very dangerous.”