Penn State

Graham Spanier files defamation suit against Louis Freeh

Attorney Libby Locke, right, who represents former Penn State president Graham Spanier, filed a defamation lawsuit against Louis Freeh on Wednesday.
Attorney Libby Locke, right, who represents former Penn State president Graham Spanier, filed a defamation lawsuit against Louis Freeh on Wednesday. CDT photo

After a year and a half of waiting, former Penn State president Graham Spanier has filed a defamation lawsuit against Louis Freeh for alleging a cover-up of Jerry Sandusky’s child sex crimes.

Lawyers for Spanier filed the suit Wednesday in Centre County Court.

After a status conference with Judge Jonathan Grine, the group made its way to the Prothonotary’s Office, where they filed two motions. The first asked to lift the stay that was issued in the case in February 2014.

The second expanded the number of defendants. Freeh and his law firm Freeh, Sporkin and Sullivan are now joined by The Freeh Group and Penn State. FSS merged with Philadelphia-based firm Pepper Hamilton in 2012, shortly after the university-commissioned Freeh report was released.

Penn State is accused of breach of contract. The Freeh Group is accused of tortious interference.

The original writ of summons was filed in July 2013. Attorney Libby Locke said that was done to preserve the statute of limitations in the case. In October 2013, the stay was issued when the plaintiff requested it pending resolution of the ongoing criminal cases against Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president Gary Schultz.

Those cases, however, continue to drag on in Dauphin County with no court date set after two years for Spanier and three for Curley and Schultz. Locke cited the delay in those cases as a motivating factor in finally filing the defamation complaint.

“Dr. Spanier is very anxious to vindicate his reputation and declare to the public his innocence,” she said.

Freeh’s investigators talked to faculty, staff and others in the course of a review of the Sandusky situation that started when FSS was hired in November 2011, within weeks of the arrest of the retired assistant football coach. The final report, issued in July 2012, a month after Sandusky’s conviction, named Spanier, Curley, Schultz and late former head coach Joe Paterno as being complicit in covering up Sandusky’s crimes.

In addition to the allegations of the report itself, Spanier’s suit pushes the idea that Freeh went above and beyond those findings to make other statements during a press conference announcing the results, including saying Spanier and the others “never demonstrated, through actions or words, any concern for the safety and well-being of Sandusky’s victims” and “repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the university’s board of trustees, the Penn State community, and the public at large.”

Spanier launched a website Wednesday, FreehReport.com, that “debunks” the allegations in the report. The Paterno estate has also taken aim at it, with the added artillery of harsh criticism of the report from former Pennsylvania governor and U.S. attorney general Dick Thornburgh and noted criminal profiler and child abuse expert Jim Clemente, who worked for Freeh when he was director of the FBI.

Locke called the report’s conclusions false and unsupported.

“As an experienced investigator, Freeh knew that his own investigation was glaringly deficient and grossly inadequate to substantiate such sweeping denunciations of Dr. Spanier. Moreover, prior to publication of the defamatory statements, Freeh and FSS discovered exculpatory testimony, facts, evidence, and documents refuting his false statements regarding Dr. Spanier. Freeh and FSS also purposefully avoided interviewing the most critical individuals with most relevant knowledge,” the Spanier filing read.

“But having already determined to transform Dr. Spanier from a pre-eminent academic administrator to a conspirator who enabled a serial pedophile, Freeh and FSS recklessly disregarded the truth, purposefully avoided contradictory information to minimize doubt about the veracity of the accusations he planned to make, and pressed ahead with the decision to defame Dr. Spanier.”

The suit also argues that Freeh and his firm’s preconceived outcome for the report was “evidenced by the fact that their 267-page report was drafted and largely finalized” before Spanier was even interviewed by Freeh.

According to the complaint, Spanier’s separation agreement with Penn State after his departure from the university prohibited the university from making any negative comments about Spanier and “required Penn State to take actions to ensure that no members of the board of trustees made negative comments” about him.

The suit claims that Penn State breached that agreement by “publicizing, permitting, encouraging and facilitating Freeh and FSS’s multiple negative public statements ... including those contained in the Freeh report, which is published on Penn State’s own website.”

The university organized separate media appearances for members of the board of trustees and scheduled two news conferences at which negative comments were made about Spanier, in violation of the separation agreement, the complaint stated.

The suit asks for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Penn State trustee Al Lord was present at the courthouse for the filing.

“I’m just glad we are getting to this point,” Lord said. “It’s time for Penn State and Graham Spanier to play some offense.”

Lord was one of the nine alumni trustees who wanted the board to switch sides in the lawsuit with state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, but the rest of the board declined. Those trustees also asked for a review of the Freeh report’s claims. He and fellow trustee Anthony Lubrano have lobbied to be allowed access to the records kept by the Freeh investigators. Board Chairman Keith Masser granted that permission but put caveats on the access, which Lord and Lubrano have been negotiating.

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