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Pepper Hamilton states objections; Freeh faces defamation suit in Louisiana

Louis Freeh addresses the media during a press conference in July 2012 in Scranto, where he released the findings of his investigation into the Penn State scandal. Freeh and the Freeh Group are being sued for defamation over an investigation he led in Louisiana after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Louis Freeh addresses the media during a press conference in July 2012 in Scranto, where he released the findings of his investigation into the Penn State scandal. Freeh and the Freeh Group are being sued for defamation over an investigation he led in Louisiana after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. CDT file photo

Pepper Hamilton, the Philadelphia-based law firm where former FBI director Louis Freeh is a partner, laid out its reasons Wednesday for appealing a judge’s ruling on its attorney-client privilege arguments in the lawsuit brought by the estate of the former Nittany Lions football coach Joe Paterno against the NCAA and Penn State.

Potter County Senior Judge John Leete is specially presiding over the case in Centre County court. He entered an opinion in November denying Pepper Hamilton’s motion for stay pending appeal and for a protective order to prevent the Paternos from subpoenaing communications that Penn State and the firm claim are privileged.

In the “statement of errors complained of on appeal,” attorney Thomas Zemaitis detailed a short list of reasons.

“Pepper Hamilton made a strong showing that Penn State is likely to prevail on the merits of the Penn State appeal,” he wrote. The university is appealing an earlier order.

“Pepper Hamilton and Penn State will suffer irreparable injury without the stay,” Zemaitis argued, saying that “absent a stay, the attorney-client privilege, which is deeply rooted in public policy, will be sacrificed and the protection of that privilege irretrievably lost.”

The filing also argues Leete’s errors. The judge had denied Penn State’s assertion of privilege, saying it was held by Pepper Hamilton, and struck down Pepper Hamilton’s request because the firm had not yet responded to the subpoena.

Zemaitis wrote that the only procedure laid out to protest was to enter a motion for a protective order, which they did.

Freeh had his own court issues this week, having been sued in federal court for defamation.

Christine Reitano sued Freeh and the Freeh Group in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Freeh was commissioned to investigate issues arising from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, much like the investigation he was brought in to do of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal at Penn State.

Reitano was singled out in the report with allegations of potential criminal activity, including “fraud, money laundering, conspiracy or perjury,” according to court documents. Reitano’s husband, Lionel Sutton, did receive a $40,000 payment for a Deepwater Horizon claim filed by a client who has entered a guilty plea to fraud.

However, the complaint says that Freeh and the Freeh Group admitted in October 2014 that the accusations against Reitano were “both reckless and in total disregard for the truth because they were forced to admit that there was ‘no evidence.’ ”

“Mr. Freeh is fully aware of what false accusations can do to a person and their life,” wrote Reitano’s attorney, Mary Olive Pierson. “Mr. Freeh and the Freeh Group have most assuredly not made their findings of no criminal conduct for Ms. Reitano public, they also continue to refuse to retract or even alter their allegations which means Ms. Reitano’s ability to restore her reputation is indefinitely postponed until they make the public announcement that the accusations were false and insupportable.”

Reitano is requesting a jury trial and asking that any damages be determined by the jury.

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