HARRISBURG, Pa. — A lawsuit by Joe Paterno’s family and others against the NCAA was heading to court one day after Penn State announced settlements with 26 young men over claims of abuse by Jerry Sandusky.
Judge John Leete scheduled the Tuesday court session in Bellefonte to hear lawyers argue over whether the breach of contract, defamation and commercial disparagement claim should be thrown out.
Penn State said Monday it was paying 26 young men $59.7 million over claims of child sexual abuse at the hands of Sandusky, the school’s former longtime defensive coach.
The school said 23 deals are fully signed and three are agreements in principle. There are six other claims, and it believes some of them are meritless.
The lawsuit by Paterno’s family challenges penalties the NCAA imposed against the school — including voiding 111 wins that occurred while Paterno was head coach. The NCAA alleges the wins were tainted by school administrators’ alleged mishandling of the Sandusky scandal.
The NCAA also fined the school $60 million, which is being paid in installments, banned the football team from bowl games for four years, and cut the number of football scholarships it could offer.
The Paterno family contends the NCAA violated its own rules in imposing the sanctions, which resulted in — among other things Paterno no longer being officially recognized as the Division I coach with the most wins, at 409.
Paterno’s family maintains that he didn’t know Sandusky was a pedophile and didn’t cover up child-sex abuse allegations against the assistant coach.
In announcing the settlements Monday, the university did not disclose the names of the recipients.
University president Rodney Erickson issued a statement calling the announcement a step forward for victims and the school.
“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,” said Erickson, who announced the day Sandusky was convicted in June 2012 that Penn State was determined to compensate his victims.
The settlements have been unfolding since mid-August, when attorneys for the accusers began to disclose them. Penn State has not been confirming them, waiting instead to announce the deals at once.
Harrisburg lawyer Ben Andreozzi, who helped negotiate several of the settlements, said his clients were satisfied.
“They felt that the university treated them fairly with the economic and noneconomic terms of the settlement,” said Andreozzi, who also represents some others who have come forward recently. Those new claims have not been presented to the university, he said.
One client represented by St. Paul, Minn., attorney Jeff Anderson signed off on an agreement in the past week and the other is basically done, he said. Anderson counts his two clients as among the three that have been classified as agreements in principle, which Penn State said means final documentation is expected to be completed in the next few weeks.
Anderson said his clients were focused on Penn State’s changes to prevent future abuse.
“I have to applaud them, because they said `not until we’re satisfied that no one else will get hurt,”’ Anderson said. “The settlement of their cases in no way heals, in no way lessens the wound that remains open and the scars that are deep.”
Penn State has spent more than $50 million on other costs related to the Sandusky scandal, including lawyers’ fees, public relations expenses, and adoption of new policies and procedures related to children and sexual abuse complaints.
It said Monday that liability insurance is expected to cover the payments and legal defense, and expenses not covered should be paid from interest paid on loans by Penn State to its self-supporting units.
Clifford Rieders, a Williamsport attorney who negotiated one of the settlements, said the average payout matched other cases involving child abuse in educational or religious settings.
Rieders said the cases raised the specter of embarrassing revelations if they went to trial, and a university would have to consider the effect on the victims, its overall reputation, its ability to pay and its wider objectives.
“There are many considerations whenever you resolve a high-profile case involving serious misconduct, and I’m sure all of those and more came into play here,” Rieders said.
Sandusky, 69, has been pursuing appeals while he serves a 30- to 60-year sentence on 45 criminal counts.
He was convicted of abusing 10 boys, some of them at Penn State facilities. Eight young men testified against him, describing a range of abuse they said went from grooming and manipulation to fondling, oral sex and anal rape when they were boys.
The 32 claimants involved in negotiations with Penn State include most of the victims from the criminal trial and some who say they were abused by Sandusky many years ago. Negotiations were conducted in secret, so the full range of the allegations wasn’t disclosed publicly.
Sandusky did not testify at his trial but has long asserted his innocence. He has acknowledged he showered with boys but insisted he never molested them.
The abuse scandal rocked Penn State, bringing down football coach Joe Paterno and leading college sports’ governing body, the NCAA, to levy unprecedented sanctions against the university’s football program.
Three former Penn State administrators await trial in Harrisburg on charges they engaged in a criminal cover-up of the Sandusky scandal. Former president Graham Spanier, retired vice president Gary Schultz and retired athletic director Tim Curley deny the allegations, and a trial date has not been scheduled.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.