As Monday opened to dreary gray clouds and rain, former Penn State football assistant coach Mike McQueary finally saw his day in court.
Monday marked the beginning of McQueary’s whistleblower lawsuit against Penn State — a suit that began almost exactly four years ago.
McQueary gained attention amid the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case. McQueary told the infamous story of seeing Sandusky in a locker room shower with a young boy in what he thought was a sexual act in 2001. In November 2011, when the charges against Sandusky went public, McQueary alleged the university’s treatment of him tarnished his reputation, ruining him financially and preventing him from earning a living coaching football.
McQueary’s suit was filed on the grounds of the whistleblower statute, defamation and misrepresentation. He’s seeking more than $4 million in lost wages plus legal costs and other punitive damages.
McQueary’s attorney, Elliot Strokoff, presented opening arguments to jurors Monday morning, laying out the list of witnesses jurors can expect to see in the coming days. This list included several former Penn State athletic staff who played key roles at the university in the days following the break of the Sandusky allegations.
Penn State attorney Nancy Conrad encouraged jurors to keep an open mind when it came to the testimonies they would hear, reminding them this is not the case regarding Tim Curley, Gary Schultz or even Sandusky, but rather about McQueary and his employment at Penn State. She also argued that McQueary’s time with the university ended with the end of his contract, noting that incoming Penn State football coach Bill O’Brien had opted not to keep McQueary on as one of his assistant coaches.
Attorney Jonelle Eshbach, who worked as deputy state attorney general during the Sandusky trial, testified of her first contacts with McQueary in December 2010, describing him as “extremely helpful” to the Sandusky investigation. She said it was rare to find a “disinterested person” in an investigation such as this — someone with no prior grudge or ax to grind against the person being investigated.
Eshbach testified that McQueary had broken no laws and done everything he needed to do according to his grand jury testimony. She also testified that she advised him not to respond to the statement made by then-Penn State president Graham Spanier in November 2011, nor to reply to the negative comments being made online or threatening emails he received about him and his family in the ensuing weeks.
Former Penn State associate athletic director for football administration and assistant coach Fran Ganter also took the stand Monday, recounting his yearly reviews of McQueary’s work as a graduate assistant as “performance exceeds expectations” during his years under Ganter’s administration.
Ganter testified to the day attorney general investigators appeared at the Lasch Building asking for a tour and their intense interest in the graduate assistants’ locker room in the spring of 2010 or 2011. He said he notified former athletic director Tim Curley about their interest.
In all cases of testimony, Conrad affirmed that no references were directly made about McQueary during the investigation or in Spanier’s statements to the public. Documents describing the incident in the locker room only referred to a “graduate assistant” having witnessed the event.
Ganter also testified that when O’Brien came on as head coach, he was told by O’Brien that the current Penn State coaches would be out.
Former Penn State general counsel Wendell Courtney testified that former vice president Gary Schultz reached out to him in early 2001 asking for assistance on a sensitive matter. According to Courtney, Schultz said an unnamed graduate assistant had seen Sandusky in the locker room with a young boy in what Schultz described as “horseplay,” asking what the university should do about it.
Courtney said he did some legal research into it, advising Schultz that the university should get in touch with the state Department of Public Welfare, saying it would be the “smart thing to do.” Courtney testified it was the conclusion that no abuse had actually taken place, noting that “horseplay” is unspecific.
The trial continues Tuesday morning, and is expected to take up to two weeks.