Arguments in Paterno lawsuit over NCAA sanctions against Penn State headed for late-October court date

mcarroll@centredaily.comAugust 21, 2013 

Penn State Abuse Football

Ed Ray, left, NCAA Executive Committee chair and Oregon State University president answers questions about the penalties against Penn State as NCAA President Mark Emmert, looks on during a news conference in Indianapolis, Monday, July 23, 2012. The NCAA has slammed Penn State with an unprecedented series of penalties, including a $60 million fine and the loss of all coach Joe Paterno's victories from 1998-2011, in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

AP

The NCAA will have an October court date in Centre County to argue that the civil lawsuit brought by the family and supporters of late Penn State head coach Joe Paterno should be dismissed.

John Leete, the judge presiding over the case, has ruled that preliminary objections will be heard Oct. 29, according to an order dated Wednesday and posted on the Centre County website.

Leete also gave the plaintiffs in the case until Sept. 6 to reply to the NCAA’s objections. The plaintiffs include the Paterno family, five Penn State trustees, former Nittany Lions players and coaches, and several current faculty members.

The hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 29, in Centre County Court.

The Paternos’ lawsuit, filed at the end of May, asks the court to wipe out sanctions against Penn State, including a $60 million fine, a bowl ban and scholarship reductions, that stem from former top officials’ handling of and alleged cover-up of child sexual abuse allegations against former coach and convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky.

The lawsuit argues that the NCAA breached its contract with the university when it imposed the penalties without an investigation. The NCAA used the Freeh report’s findings in lieu of its own investigation.

The NCAA wants Leete to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the claims are “baseless” and that Penn State is missing as an essential party in the case.

The NCAA argued in its written objections that Penn State is a necessary party in the suit, and it was the university’s president, Rodney Erickson, who signed the consent decree that set forth the sanctions. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit were not punished by the NCAA and do not have the legal standing to sue, the organization’s lawyers argued.

The written arguments said the lawsuit lacked legal merits regarding other claims, such as whether the consent decree defamed Penn State or whether the Paterno name was tarnished. The NCAA also denied the accusation that its leadership of President Mark Emmert and now former Executive Committee Chairman Ed Ray conspired with Louis Freeh and his investigators.

All outstanding preliminary objections will be heard Oct. 29, except those relating to personal jurisdiction over Emmert and Ray, according to the order from Leete.

The NCAA argued in its written objections that Centre County Court is not the proper jurisdiction for the lawsuit, because neither Emmert and Ray stepped foot in Pennsylvania during the sanctions process. Emmert either phoned Erickson or sent him letters, and Ray never communicated to Erickson about the consent decree, the NCAA said.

After the other preliminary objections are heard, the court would schedule another hearing date to address the jurisdiction issue if necessary, according to the order.

Sandusky, 69, is serving what is essentially a life sentence in a western Pennsylvania prison after being convicted last year on charges he sexually abused 10 young boys, sometimes on the Penn State campus.

Former Penn State president Graham Spanier and former top administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz are awaiting trial on charges they covered up the abuse and lied to investigators.

Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carrollreporter.

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