Ex-Penn State president Graham Spanier wins ruling that delays defamation suit vs. Louis Freeh

mdawson@centredaily.comFebruary 25, 2014 

Former Penn State President Graham Spanier’s defamation lawsuit against Louis Freeh is on pause, as a Centre County judge granted him a stay Tuesday until the criminal case against him from the Jerry Sandusky scandal is resolved.

In the order, Judge Jonathan Grine said several factors weighed in favor of granting the stay for Spanier, who wants to sue for the remarks made in the Freeh report. Spanier has yet to file a claim that outlines the allegations, and so far, the only hint of the claims consists of a written notice that he intends to sue.

Grine said the overlap between the defamation case and the criminal case could affect both cases if they were to move forward at the same time.

For instance, Spanier’s co-defendants in the criminal case, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, could invoke their Fifth Amendment rights in the civil case and not testify. Grine said a jury might see that in a way to hurt Spanier’s case.

If Spanier were to testify in his civil case, his testimony could be used against him in the criminal case, Grine said.

“Any evidence offered in the civil case would also be relevant to the criminal case,” Grine wrote. “Further, any evidence offered in the civil case would also be relevant to the criminal case, including anything stated in (Spanier’s) complaint, which requires a sworn verification. Thus, (Spanier) may be at risk of exposing himself to criminal liability by proceeding.”

A lawyer for Freeh and his firm opposed the stay and asked during a court hearing in January that the judge make the case move forward. The lawyer said Freeh was eager to fight the accusations.

One of Freeh’s bases in opposing the stay was that witnesses would forget the facts, but Grine acknowledged that it will be hard to forget the Freeh report.

“The events giving rise to the instant litigation were highly publicized, and it is quite unlikely those involved will forget details to such a degree that would warrant the denial of a stay,” Grine wrote.

In the criminal case, Spanier, Curley and Schultz are charged with perjury, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, child endangerment and failure to report abuse. Their lawyers have maintained that their clients are innocent and have asked the judge presiding over the case to dismiss all the charges.

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