Penn State

Paternos, Penn State, NCAA face off in Centre County Court

Potter County Senior Judge John Leete exits the Centre County courthouse after a hearing involving attorneys for the NCAA, Penn State and the Paterno family. Friday, February 6, 2015
Potter County Senior Judge John Leete exits the Centre County courthouse after a hearing involving attorneys for the NCAA, Penn State and the Paterno family. Friday, February 6, 2015 CDT photo

A judge will render an opinion on the next steps in a lawsuit brought by the estate of late former football coach Joe Paterno against Penn State and the NCAA.

The estate, along with trustee Al Clemens and former assistant coaches Jay Paterno and Bill Kenney, are suing the university, the college sports organization, NCAA President Mark Emmert and former executive committee chairman Ed Ray for breach of contract. The NCAA is also accused of conspiracy, defamation, disparagement and contractual interference.

Attorneys for all the parties gathered Friday in Centre County for Potter County Senior Judge John Leete to hear arguments on several issues.

One of the main points at issue was one that Leete had already ruled on when he issued an opinion in September that said the late coach could not be considered an “involved party” in the issues that unfolded after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal broke, leading to the consent decree by which Penn State accepted punishment from NCAA.

The Paternos amended their complaint after that ruling, attempting to “add more meat” to their argument.

NCAA attorney Everett Johnson argued that whether Paterno was involved or not was immaterial.

“It would not make any difference,” Johnson said, claiming that contract rights in the case would “die with the party.”

“It’s a right to process. That can no longer be done,” he said, adding that the estate’s attempts to proceed for the coach were not appropriate. “That’s like a football team saying we’re happy to be on offense all the time.”

Paterno attorney Joseph Loveland responded that it was impossible to deny that Paterno was a part of the NCAA’s focus, pointing to the Nov. 17, 2011, letter from Emmert to Penn State in which Emmert detailed the start of an inquiry, asked four pointed questions with a deadline for answers and specifically targeted the responsibilities of the head coach.

He also noted Paterno’s inclusion in the consent decree, one of four persons singled out as having had responsibility.

“Do they allege coach Paterno was involved? Of course they do,” Loveland said.

“Yes, they did,” Leete agreed.

Also up for discussion was the issue of subpoenas. The plaintiffs issued a notice in November that they wanted to depose five university presidents who sat on the executive committee in 2012. Those depositions were supposed to start in January but the subpoenas were not issued after push-back from the NCAA.

In court, NCAA attorney Sarah Gragert argued that the estate’s request to depose the presidents was overreaching and premature.

Plaintiff attorney Patricia Maher said the case has been going on for 20 months with only one deposition — Ray’s — taken to date.

Leete questioned the opposition, saying it sounded like the NCAA wanted to dictate the plaintiffs’ ability to ask questions and who could answer them.

Leete said he would decide the issues simultaneously and would announce a decision soon.

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