3 ex-Penn State officials lose court ruling in cover-up case
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - A Pennsylvania judge ruled Wednesday that the rights of three former Penn State administrators were not violated by the actions of the university's top lawyer during grand jury matters before they were charged with covering up child sex-abuse complaints about Jerry Sandusky.
Dauphin County Judge Todd Hoover in Harrisburg ruled that the lawyer, Cynthia Baldwin, had been representing defendants Graham Spanier, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz as Penn State employees, so they were not denied their right to legal counsel. He upheld many of the charges and said he would rule later on others.
Hoover said there was no conflict of interest among the defendants, no violations of attorney-client privilege and no prosecutorial misconduct based on the claim that prosecutors interfered with the defendants' constitutional rights.
''Ms. Baldwin consistently and properly identified her role as counsel to the university in consultation with the defendants and in the grand jury proceedings,'' Hoover wrote. ''Defendants chose to proceed with the university's counsel and therefore suffered no denial of the right to counsel.''
The legal dispute about Baldwin's role has caused a lengthy delay in the prosecution of Spanier, the school's former president, former vice president Schultz and former athletic director Curley. Schultz and Curley were first charged in late 2011, Spanier a year later.
Spanier lawyer Liz Ainslie said she disagreed with Hoover's ruling and plans to appeal. Curley attorney Caroline Roberto said she was disappointed but still reading the opinion, and Schultz lawyer Tom Farrell declined to comment.
''We are currently reviewing the order, but it appears that this decision is a significant step toward holding these three individuals accountable for their actions,'' said Aaron Sadler, spokesman for the state attorney general's office.
The three men, once high-level leaders of the massive university system, face charges related to their handling of complaints about Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach who was charged in 2011 and convicted the next year of multiple counts of child sexual abuse. Sandusky is serving a lengthy prison sentence and maintains he was wrongly convicted.
Baldwin is a former state Supreme Court justice and former Penn State trustee who was the school's general counsel when state prosecutors first contacted the university about the Sandusky investigation in late December 2010.
Her attorney declined to say what the decision means for Baldwin, whose handling of the matter has come under intense criticism.
''As we've stated in the past, Justice Cynthia Baldwin knows the importance of the process and how legal issues need to play out in the courts, as they have today,'' said her attorney, Charles De Monaco.
The three defendants face charges of perjury, obstruction, conspiracy, child endangerment and failure to properly report suspected abuse. No trial date has been scheduled, and the three have vigorously denied the allegations.
In the section of his opinion that pertains to Spanier, Hoover said he will rule later on requests to throw out the charges of child endangerment, conspiracy to commit child endangerment and failure to report suspected abuse. It was unclear if that applies to the other defendants as well.
Hoover's opinion disclosed for the first time that a closed-door hearing on the matter had been held in late November. He said decision was based in part on that hearing, but that he did not reference any of that evidence in the written opinion, citing the sensitivity of attorney-client privilege and the possibility of appeals.