Penn State

Gag order in Penn State hazing case applies to Piazza family, judge rules

Jim and Evelyn Piazza hope to spread their anti-hazing message message

After their son's death at Penn State in February 2017, Jim and Evelyn Piazza travel around the country to spread an anti-hazing message. This video was provided by WTAJ, through a partnership with the Centre Daily Times for daily news content.
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After their son's death at Penn State in February 2017, Jim and Evelyn Piazza travel around the country to spread an anti-hazing message. This video was provided by WTAJ, through a partnership with the Centre Daily Times for daily news content.

The Piazza family’s nationwide anti-hazing tour will continue, but it might feature a slightly different script after a Centre County judge ruled Tuesday that a 2018 gag order applies to them.

Defense attorneys Frank Fina and Steve Trialonas — who represent former Beta Theta Pi fraternity members Brendan Young and Daniel Casey, respectively — filed a motion April 10 that sought to limit public statements made by Jim and Evelyn Piazza and their attorneys about the case.

After Penn State student Timothy Piazza’s alcohol-fueled death in February 2017, former District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller made a plethora of statements about the case, including an interview with NBC’s “Today” in May 2017.

Centre County Judge Jonathan Grine ultimately issued the gag order in July 2018 to limit “the publicity generated by these cases.” A section of Grine’s order outlining who it applies to includes “any person who has, at any time, directed or participated in the investigation leading to the charges filed against the defendants.”

“Despite the clear directives and intent of this court’s order, there have been repeated and ongoing public statements by the Piazza family — or on their behalf — in direct violation of this court’s order,” Fina wrote in his motion.

Trialonas argued the intent of Grine’s order was “obvious” and should be applied to the case’s “two most outspoken people.”

Judge Brian Marshall agreed, but also listened to Piazza family attorney, David Williams, who reiterated his argument that “the Piazzas have done nothing more than engage in an earnest campaign to end hazing on college and university campuses.”

The Piazzas are scheduled to deliver more than 30 speeches over the next six months, Williams said, and putting a stop to their anti-hazing efforts would be a “tremendous blow.”

Marshall said he will review the arguments and plans to issue an order clarifying what statements, if any, can be made by the Piazzas. He did not offer a timeline for his ruling.

Williams declined to comment after the hearing, but the Piazzas have previously expressed their desire to speak to larger groups at Penn State.

“We’ve been to Purdue (University) and spoke to 5,000 people; Ohio State, we spoke to about 3,000 people. This is a campus where we should be speaking, really, to 3-to-5,000 students and making a broader impact,” Jim Piazza told WTAJ earlier this month. “Penn State has been our smallest group so far, and we’ve been to some small schools.”

Damon Sims, the university’s vice president for student affairs, said Monday that one of the first speaking engagements offered to the Piazzas came from the university at the beginning of the past fall semester.

“Our Fraternity and Sorority Life Office worked with Jim and Evelyn to shape an opportunity consistent with their wish to speak to leaders in the Penn State fraternity and sorority community, including students, advisers and alumni — a sizable group,” Sims said. “Their presentation was exceptionally well-received and impactful, particularly with precisely the group we were working so hard to reach at a critical time in the evolution of our reforms here. I was given the impression that the Piazzas were pleased by the response, too.”

The Piazzas also appeared on university President Eric Barron’s television show and spoke to a group of about 700 University Park students during spring 2018, Sims said.

“It’s my belief that the university community has benefited greatly from Jim and Evelyn’s advocacy, which I hope will continue,” Sims said. “They and we share a common purpose, which is the eradication of hazing for the welfare of all involved. And we’re making good progress together, as evidenced by both relevant data and abundant anecdote. There’s really no question about it.”

Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.

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