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Penn State Scandal

May 30, 2013

Penn State Saga: Paterno lawyer says estate to sue NCAA

STATE COLLEGE — The family of the late Penn State coach Joe Paterno — along with several university trustees, former players and others connected to the school — plan to sue the NCAA over the landmark sanctions against the university for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

The 40-page suit to be filed today will name the NCAA, president Mark Emmert and Oregon State president Edward Ray — who was chair of the NCAA’s executive committee as defendants, according to a statement released by attorney Wick Sollers and other family representatives late last night.

Paterno’s son, Jay Paterno, and Bill Kenney are two former Paterno assistants taking part in the action against the NCAA, the statement said. Also taking part in the suit are five trustees, four faculty members and nine ex-Penn State players, including Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson, according to the statement.

The NCAA, Emmert and Ray “acted in clear and direct violation of the organization’s own rules based on a flawed report by former FBI director Louis Freeh,” the statement said. He led the university’s internal investigation into the scandal, arriving at scathing findings that pointed blame in part on Paterno and three former school officials.

“This case is further proof that the NCAA has lost all sense of its mission. If there was ever a situation that demanded meticulous review and a careful adherence to NCAA rules and guidelines, this was it,” family attorney Wick Sollers said. “Instead, the NCAA placed a premium on speed over accuracy and precipitous action over due process.”

Sollers said the suit was to be filed in state court in Centre County, home of Penn State’s flagship campus. The family planned to post the complaint on www.paterno.com after being filed.

Sollers and other representatives for Paterno also appeared on the NBC Sports Network’s “Costas Tonight” show last night.

The suit is designed “to redress the NCAA’s 100 percent adoption of the Freeh Report. ... The reality is that consent decree was imposed through coercion and threats behind the scenes and there was no ability for anyone to get redress,” Sollers told Costas according to excerpts provided by the show.

“There was no board approval, there was no transparency, and there was no consideration of this consent decree.”

It would be the latest filing in a tangled web of litigation related to the sanctions. Most prominently, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA, which has also faced criticism for a botched investigation of Miami and departures in the enforcement division.

Among the penalties against Penn State were a four-year bowl ban, steep scholarship cuts, and a $60 million fine. The NCAA also vacated 111 wins from Paterno’s record, meaning he would no longer hold the title of major college football’s winningest coach.

The lawsuit lodges six counts against the NCAA, Emmert and Ray, including breach of contract, civil conspiracy, defamation and commercial disparagement, according to Sollers’ statement.

Sollers, in an interview yesterday with The Associated Press, said the suit would ask for the sanctions and agreement between school and the NCAA to be deemed unlawful and the penalties overturned, he said.

The lawsuit would also ask for unspecified damages and court costs, Sollers said, though the family would donate any net proceeds to charity.

“The broader goal is to get the truth out,” Sollers said told the AP. “This narrative that’s in public that was perpetuated by the NCAA’s adoption of the deeply flawed Freeh report ... cannot stand.”

Freeh accused Paterno and three former university officials of concealing allegations against Sandusky, a retired defensive coordinator. Sandusky was sentenced to at least 30 years in prison after being convicted last year of dozens of criminal counts of abuse, including allegations on and off campus.

Paterno died in January 2012. His family and the former school officials have vehemently denied they took part in a cover-up.

The NCAA said yesterday it had not received any such lawsuit and could not comment.

“Despite our request, the Paterno family has not shared any information about its planned legal action,” chief legal officer Donald Remy said in a statement. “We remain committed to working with Penn State toward the continued successful completion of our voluntary agreement with the university and to working” with the NCAA’s independent monitor, former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell.

Penn State spokesman Dave La Torre said the school itself was not a party to any litigation that might be filed by the Paterno family and remained committed to “full compliance” to the sanctions.

“We look forward to continuing to work with Sen. George Mitchell and recognize the important role that intercollegiate athletics provides for our student athletes and the wider university community,” said the statement from La Torre.

Sollers said Freeh is not named as a defendant in the case, but is listed as a “co-conspirator” in the lawsuit, and that there were close communications between the NCAA and Freeh’s team throughout the investigation.

“The NCAA stood on the sidelines instead of doing what they should have done with a full investigation. We have given a lot more allowance to Louis Freeh than he gave to Joe Paterno, and the people he named in his report,” Sollers said told Costas.

Dick Thornburgh, a former U.S. attorney general and Pennsylvania governor, was also interviewed by Costas. Thornburgh was an author of a critique released in February and commissioned by the Paterno family that called Freeh’s work a “rush to injustice.”

Costas said Freeh and Emmert declined to appear on his show.

 

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