Paterno family lawyers: NCAA has Penn State ‘under their thumb’

mcarroll@centredaily.comApril 17, 2014 

OldMain

The Penn State University Old Main building, October 28, 2013.

NABIL K. MARK

The NCAA is asking for a “do-over” while avoiding more pressing issues in the lawsuit brought against them by the family of longtime coach Joe Paterno, the family’s lawyers said in court papers filed this week.

The legal memo was in response to written objections in March filed by both the NCAA and Penn State. The Paterno lawyers said the NCAA is trying to re-litigate matters that have already been decided in their favor.

The Paterno family and its co-plaintiffs, who are seeking to have the sanctions overturned and the consent decree that authorized them voided, said the NCAA should have limited its arguments to new issues raised earlier this year after a judge ruled Penn State must be a party for certain parts of the case to proceed.

In the filing Wednesday, lawyers said the NCAA’s “principal strategy has been to invent as many objections as possible in an attempt to prevent this litigation from going forward, avoid the merits, and ensure that the real facts never see the light of day.”

The Paterno family attorneys wrote they were not surprised Penn State has joined the NCAA in objecting to the suit. Attorneys said the NCAA is “pointing a gun directly in Penn State’s direction” by threatening to impose further sanctions if the university doesn’t cooperate.

“Penn State’s decision to support the NCAA defendants is not surprising, however, for Penn State remains trapped under their thumb,” attorneys wrote in the filing. “Even before this court, the NCAA defendants repeatedly threaten Penn State with the prospect of ‘harsh penalties’ and a ‘protracted NCAA investigation’ even though doing so exceeds their lawful authority. These improper tactics confirm the need for a full and fair hearing on the merits.”

Attorneys argued in the filing that the NCAA is seeking to “re-ligate matters already resolved” and not tackling the main issues raised by the family’s complaint.

“The defendants continue to ignore the crux of the complaint — that the NCAA defendants had no authority to interfere in a criminal investigation to address a matter that has nothing to do with athletic competition,” lawyers said.

Earlier this year, a judge allowed portions of the Paterno family lawsuit to advance to the discovery phase, but dismissed other claims and said they could be refiled.

Senior Judge John Leete gave the green light to claims of defamation, civil conspiracy and commercial disparagement. Leete sustained the NCAA objections that Penn State must be added as a defendant and that more details were needed to show the consent decree hurt two former coaches — Jay Paterno and Bill Kenney — in finding work.

The Paterno family filed a modified lawsuit after that, and the NCAA and Penn State responded with objections in March.

The Paternos and their supporters include trustees, former coaches and former players. They said the NCAA bypassed its own rules when it penalized the university for the Jerry Sandusky scandal after the Freeh report was released in July 2012.

The sanctions include a $60 million fine, toward which Penn State has paid $24 million. The university also saw a post-season ban and scholarship reductions, though the NCAA decided to incrementally reinstate the scholarships that were cut.

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

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