Judge hears arguments on Graham Spanier case delay; no ruling yet

mcarroll@centredaily.comJanuary 7, 2014 

— Graham Spanier’s lawyer made a friendly offer Tuesday to Louis Freeh’s attorney to settle their court squabble:

She would explain, over lunch, the claims Spanier wants to bring against the author of the report that labeled the ex-Penn State president part of a conspiracy to hide abuse allegations against former coach Jerry Sandusky.

Lawyers for Spanier and Freeh were in Centre County court on Tuesday to argue over whether Spanier needs to file a formal complaint before he can pause the civil lawsuit to concentrate on fighting his criminal prosecution in Dauphin County.

Centre County Judge Jonathan D. Grine did not rule from the bench and will consider the arguments made Tuesday.

Attorneys for Freeh want to see Spanier’s allegations spelled out in court documents before any more delays. So far, Spanier has filed a notice of intent to sue that offers few details about his case.

“It is not my intention to keep anyone in the dark ... ,” Spanier lawyer Elizabeth Ainslie told the judge.

Instead, Ainslie pointed to a 16-page critique of the Freeh report that Spanier’s defense team issued in August 2012 and said that should provide Freeh a good idea of what the civil suit will allege.

“If they are truly ignorant of what I’m talking about, I’ll be more than happy to give them that ... and answer any questions they have,” she said.

But Freeh lawyer Robert Heim said he wants those answers in the form of a complaint.

“I’m always happy to have lunch with Ms. Ainslie,” he said. “But that’s not going to solve the problem.”

Heim said there is a difference between a critique of the Freeh report and what defense attorneys are seeking.

“The big difference is, Dr. Spanier has to come forward with a verified complaint — not from counsel, but from Spanier — that says Mr. Freeh committed a knowing falsehood. He has to say that on the record. Mr. Freeh wants to see if he can do that. He is entitled to ask. ...”

Heim suggested Spanier could file a complaint and then ask for a delay, but Ainslie said she believes the case will snowball. She predicted Freeh would challenge parts of the complaint and that other filings would come quickly.

“Once the complaint is filed, it’s a downhill slope as far as I’m concerned,” she said. “All of that is going to come swooping in through the back door of the courthouse.”

Spanier and former Penn State administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz are awaiting trial in Dauphin County on charges that they didn’t report child sex abuse allegations against Sandusky and later lied to an investigating grand jury. Their defense lawyers have maintained that they are innocent.

Spanier labeled findings in the Freeh report, which determined the men hid allegations, as false and defamatory and in July filed a notice of intent to sue Freeh and his firm, Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan.

Ainslie said the criminal and civil cases could overlap by as much as 90 percent, and that forcing Spanier to move forward with both cases would place an unfair burden on him. Key witnesses involved in the criminal case might not be willing to testify, as well.

Pursuing both cases would also unnecessarily tax the court system, she said, because complex issues from the criminal case, including whether former Penn State attorney Cynthia Baldwin can testify, would have to play out here, too.

“We are anxious when the time comes to go forward,” Ainslie said. “We are fully committed. But there is a time and a place for everything.”

Heim said a complaint should be filed first, and then if the issues Ainslie raised become problems, she could again file for a delay.

“Counsel has referred to things that might take place, could take place,” he said. “The only issue this morning is whether Dr. Spanier has to file a complaint.”

Heim said his client suffered prejudice from the defamation suit and “wants this cloud of committing a knowing falsehood explored.”

“We have a generalized charge of defamation against a former head of the FBI, a federal judge,” Heim said. “... That’s a very, very serious charge. But there are no specifics.”

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

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