Paterno Family Lawsuit Wants to Void Consent Decree

    October 30, 2013

On Tuesday, Senior Judge John B. Leete listened to arguments for 3 hours concerning the Jerry Sandusky scandal that occurred at Penn State and the ensuing fallout. In June of last year, Jerry Sandusky was found guilty of 45 counts of sexual abuse against young boys. Not only was Sandusky punished with 30-60 years in prison, but Penn State University was also subject to many sanctions placed upon them by the NCAA – a $60 million fine, a four-year ban on post-season eligibility, the loss of scholarships, and the vacation of Joe Paterno’s victories from 1998-2011, 112 wins total.

At the time, many people thought the sanctions imposed by the NCAA were still not enough. However, the family of Joe Paterno has filed a lawsuit against the NCAA claiming that the organization side-stepped their own bylaws and had no jurisdiction to hand down the sanctions they did. Paterno’s family, along with four university trustees, four faculty members, 9 former players, and two former coaches, claim a breach of contract by the NCAA, resulting in contract interference, defamation, commercial disparagement, and civil conspiracy.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of Penn State awarding $59.7 million to 26 victims of abuse by Sandusky. In a statement released by the university, President Rodney Erickson stated, “We hope this is another step forward in the healing process for those hurt by Mr. Sandusky, and another step forward for Penn State. We cannot undo what has been done, but we can and must do everything possible to learn from this and ensure it never happens again at Penn State.”

The university will pay for the settlement through liability insurance, not taxpayer money or student tuition.

The NCAA is asking Judge Leete to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming that the Paterno family made a large oversight in their case – namely that of including Penn State as a party in the lawsuit. Everett Johnson, an attorney for the NCAA, says that Penn State must be listed as a party because if the lawsuit was to be upheld, the results would directly impact the institution. Also, the NCAA holds Penn State as the responsible party for agreeing to to consent decree imposed upon them by the NCAA.

The problem with Penn State being listed as a plaintiff, though, is that they waived all rights to legally challenge the ruling. The plaintiffs are arguing, however, that Penn State does not have to be party in the lawsuit because the NCAA violated its own bylaws when it chose to file charges using evidence obtained from the third-party Freeh report instead of conducting its own investigation.

While Judge Leete may agree that the NCAA was unorthodox in its approach to investigating the incident, stating that, “They cut a new path with this case, no question about it,” he has decided to not issue a verdict until a later date.

If the consent decree is overturned by Judge Leete, then Penn State will be subject to an entirely new investigation and potentially even harsher punishments. While the actions conducted by Sandusky were atrocious, the punitive actions of the NCAA against an entire university of current students and football players who were not involved seems excessive. If the judge rules in favor of the Paterno family, one can only hope that at least some of the reputation of one of the United States’s best universities will be restored and the impact upon innocent students will be drastically lessened.

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