For Penn State, Freeh report lands in minefield of legal threats

For lawyers planning to sue Penn State University over how it dealt with allegations that Jerry Sandusky sexually abused boys, Thursday’s report gives them the kind of investigation that they likely could not afford to do themselves.

The report, commissioned by the university and prepared by former FBI Director Louis B. Freeh, found that top university officials, “in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity” for the university, “repeatedly concealed critical facts” from authorities.

The report also condemned former officials, including President Graham Spanier, Vice President Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley and football Coach Joe Paterno for the “total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s victims.”

The report found that officials had two separate opportunities in 1998 and 2001 to take action against Sandusky, but chose to keep the matter an internal issue. In 2001, administrators were pushed by Paterno to reverse themselves and keep the matter in-house.

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All of those could be factors in how the civil lawsuits play out, lawyers said.

“It is clear that Penn State officials engaged in magical thinking,” said Daniel Filler, a professor at the Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University in Philadelphia. “Given their passion to protect Penn State, they ignored all the evidence from both 1998 and 2001, concluding that continued ties to Sandusky wouldn’t expose Penn State to any risk.

“For lawyers and plaintiffs planning on suing Penn State, the Freeh report is literally a road map to the case,” said Filler, who has no client in the Penn State scandal.

Sandusky, 68, is in jail awaiting sentencing on 45 charges that he sexually abused 10 boys over 15 years. He could spend the rest of life in prison when sentenced in the fall.

At a minimum, all the victims are potential plaintiffs, and several indicated when they testified in June that they have sought legal representation.

“The Freeh report is absolutely devastating to Penn State,” lawyers Andrew Shubin and Justine Andronici, who along with the Philadelphia law firm of Ross Feller Casey represent men identified in court records as Victims 3, 7 and 10. The group also represents Matt Sandusky, Jerry Sandusky’s adopted son who has said he too was abused, as well as other Sandusky victims who were not part of the criminal charges.

The report “confirms that at the highest level, Penn State officials, including the university president and head football coach, knew that Sandusky was a child predator, but made the deliberate and reprehensible decision to conceal his abuse. They chose to protect themselves, Penn State’s brand and image, and their football program instead of children,” the attorneys said.


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