Paterno family responds to NCAA objections to lawsuit

mcarroll@centredaily.comSeptember 6, 2013 

Miami NCAA Investigation

FILE - In this Jan. 17, 2013, file photo, NCAA President Mark Emmert speaks at the organization's annual convention in Grapevine, Texas. The NCAA is revealing that it has found "an issue of improper conduct" within its own enforcement program during its investigation into the compliance practices of Miami's athletic department. Emmert has ordered an external review of the enforcement program. Miami will not receive its notice of allegations until that review is complete. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

LM OTERO — AP photo

The NCAA knew the Freeh report’s findings “were not worth the paper they were written on” when punishing Penn State with historic sanctions, say attorneys for the family of late Penn State coach Joe Paterno.

Paterno family attorneys filed papers Friday that claim the Freeh report’s findings have been “thoroughly discredited” when it comes to Paterno and plaintiffs in the family’s civil lawsuit against the NCAA.

The statements were part of the Paterno family response to preliminary objections the NCAA filed seeking to have the suit tossed.

Attorneys for the Paterno family had been given a deadline of Friday to respond to the objections.

Judge John Leete, who is presiding over the case, will hear oral arguments on the objections Oct. 29 in Centre County court.

The Paternos’ lawsuit, filed at the end of May, asks the court to wipe the NCAA’s penalties against the university, arguing that the NCAA breached its contract when it imposed the sanctions without investigation.

The NCAA used the Freeh report’s findings, which condemned former top officials’ handling of child sexual abuse allegations against former assistant coach and convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky.

Former president Graham Spanier and former top administrators Gary Schultz and Tim Curley are awaiting trial in Dauphin County on charges that they covered up the abuse and lied to a grand jury investigating Sandusky.

Attorneys for the NCAA have said the Paterno family suit is “baseless,” arguing that Spanier’s successor, Rodney Erickson, willingly signed the consent decree that enacted the sanctions.

Because of that, the NCAA says Penn State should be a necessary party in any civil suit. The organization also argued that the Paterno family and others do not have legal standing to sue and disputed whether the consent decree actually defamed Penn State and tarnished the Paterno name.

In their 92-page response filed Friday, Paterno family attorneys wrote the plaintiffs in the suit “suffered substantial harm as a direct result of the NCAA’s unauthorized and unjustified actions ... .”

Plaintiffs in the Paterno family suit also include five Penn State trustees, former Nittany Lions players and coaches, and several current faculty members.

The response said the NCAA “falsely labeled one of the nation’s most revered coaches as being complicit in child abuse; charged members of the (b)oard of (t)rustees with allowing that abuse to occur; tainted the careers of other respected coaches and painted a community of faculty members, students athletes and administrators as promoting a culture that purportedly lost sight of basic ‘values of human decency.’ ”

Also in their response, attorneys argued against the NCAA assertion that Penn State must be part of the lawsuit. Paterno family attorneys cited a state Commonwealth Court decision this week that rejected the NCAA’s arguments to dismiss a separate lawsuit that seeks to keep money from the $60 file against Penn State from being spent outside Pennsylvania.

Specifically, the court’s decision determined that state Sen. Jake Corman and state Treasurer Rob McCord, who brought the suit, have the legal standing to continue and that they don’t need Penn State to litigate it, as the NCAA had argued.

All outstanding preliminary objections will be heard Oct. 29 in Centre County court, Leete has ruled, except those relating to personal jurisdiction over nevermind, 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 NCAA President Mark Emmert and thenExecutive Committee Chairman Ed Ray set 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.

Leete will schedule another hearing date to address the jurisdiction issue if necessary, according to the order.

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

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