The family of Joe Paterno wants to use the Big Ten as a way to dig into how NCAA officials decided to impose harsh sanctions on Penn State for the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Lawyers for the family of the late coach want to serve subpoenas to the Big Ten Conference and a Chicago law firm as part of the discovery process of the family’s lawsuit against the NCAA and Penn State. The family, along with former Nittany Lion coaches and players, and university trustees and professors, sued to have the sanctions reversed.
A notice of the subpoena was filed in Centre County Court this week by a lawyer for Scott Paterno, one of the coach’s sons. The subpoena requests any records the Big Ten and the firm Mayer Brown have that pertain to the NCAA, Penn State or former FBI director Louis Freeh’s law firm, which the university hired to conduct the investigation that led to the NCAA’s decision to sanction Penn State.
The Big Ten is involved in the lawsuit because in December 2011, conference Commissioner Jim Delaney wrote to Penn State President Rodney Erickson asking that a Big Ten lawyer be involved in the Freeh investigation. Delaney said he wanted to avoid duplicating the investigations, and that the lawyer had been in touch with Freeh’s firm and the NCAA about working together.
The Big Ten lawyer, John Barrett, and NCAA lawyers ended up working with the Freeh investigators, although the extent of which is not known.
Seven months later, the Freeh report came out, blaming Penn State administrators, including Paterno, for hiding abuse allegations against Sandusky from more than a decade ago.
The NCAA quickly responded with sanctions, and the Paternos’ lawsuit claims the NCAA bypassed its own rulebook when its officials slammed Penn State with a $60 million fine, scholarship reductions, a bowl ban and the deletion of 111 of Paterno’s wins from history. They also allege that the consent decree defamed some coaches and hurt their job prospects and that the Paterno name has been damaged, too.
A spokesman for the Paterno family called the subpoenas an “important” procedure in the lawsuit.
“From the beginning we have been clear — we want the truth, the full truth, wherever it leads,” said spokesman Dan McGinn. “We want the truth that the parties who acted rashly and without concern for due process have attempted to keep secret. Now that the matter is in court, the bright light of day will shine on the record.”
Spokesmen for the Big Ten and a spokeswoman for the NCAA did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
The subpoena asks the Big Ten and its firm for everything that relates to the NCAA’s decision to sanction Penn State, including whether there was a discussion about how the organization’s bylaws would apply to its investigation and documentation involving the chair of the NCAA’s infractions committee that did not involve a committee meeting.
The records sought include any drafts of the consent decree, which authorized the sanctions, and any documentation involving NCAA President Mark Emmert and Ed Ray, who was the chairman of the organization’s executive committee when it approved the consent decree in the summer of 2012.
The subpoena demands the records by March 26.
The Big Ten and its firm can object to the subpoena, but the Paterno lawyers want the Big Ten lawyers to explain the reasoning for their objection or what kind of legal privilege would apply to the records in question.
Big Ten officials weighed in on the NCAA sanctions in July 2012, agreeing with the course of action the organization took. The Big Ten issued its own sanction that Penn State be prohibited from getting its share of conference bowl revenues through 2016.
That was estimated at $13 million.
The most recent development in the lawsuit came last month, when the Paternos and their fellow plaintiffs added Penn State as a defendant. That means some Penn State trustees are suing the university, and the university has strongly condemned their participation.
Al Clemens, one of the trustees in the lawsuit, is stepping down from the board. At last week’s board meeting in Hershey, he vowed to fight the sanctions and said he regretted voting to fire Paterno the night of Nov. 9, 2011.
Mike Dawson can be reached at 231-4616. Follow him on Twitter @MikeDaw sonCDT.