State College attorney Joe Amendola looked at three reporters in a Centre County courtroom on a cold day in January and smiled.
Still grinning, he turned to the judge and said, “Your honor, we’re going to waive our preliminary hearing.”
Except it wasn’t a preliminary hearing and it didn’t have anything to do with the Jerry Sandusky case, the one most associated with Amendola’s name. Instead, the joke — a reference to how the media turned out in December for a hearing that never happened — came at the beginning of a hearing for a female client charged with having sex with a teenage boy.
The moment underlines a side of the attorney who is friendly and courteous while at the same time gets high-profile cases and wealthy clients.
“He’s very good at what he does,” said Jim Bryant, a State College attorney who once was a prosecutor with Amendola in Philadelphia and later practiced with him here. “He’s certainly jerked the media around like a Jim Henson puppeteer.”
Some in legal circles in Centre County declined to comment about Amendola.
Amendola, who once gave three hours of interviews to media outlets after the preliminary hearing waiver, is now bound by a gag order not to speak to the media about the case. He declined several requests for an interview.
But Amendola has said he believes in the innocence of the man he is representing — with jury selection to launch the trial on Tuesday. And Amendola has said if Sandusky is guilty, he should go to jail for a long time.
‘Maintained his innocence’
Amendola, 63, arguably has made as much news as has the former Penn State assistant football coach in the months since the charges were made public.
He came under scrutiny when it was revealed that a girl who met Amendola while working as a trainee at his College Township law office was 17 when she gave birth to their first child in 1997. He represented her when she petitioned to the court at age 16 to become emancipated from her parents. Upset about the media digging into his past, Amendola said in November that he had fallen in love with the girl.
Then there was the party at his million-dollar home in Harris Township in December that came to light after a reporter driving back to his hotel got pulled over for alleged drunken driving.
Amendola later down-played the notion of a party to a Philadelphia magazine, saying he was being hounded for interviews, so he announced he was going to watch a football game at his house and invited some reporters over.
But Amendola is probably most known — and has been highly criticized — for allowing Sandusky to do a telephone interview with Bob Costas on NBC’s “Rock Center” the evening of Nov. 14. In that conversation, Sandusky admitted to showering with a young boy but said the incident was not sexual in nature, and he denied being sexually attracted to young boys.
Two days later, outside the Centre County Courthouse, Amendola defended the decision to put Sandusky out there in such a public way. The crush of negative publicity forced his hand, he said, so he and Sandusky wanted to reach as big an audience as possible.
“We felt we were at a point where we had to let people know that Jerry has maintained his innocence,” Amendola said Nov. 16. “If I had said that, people would write it off as lawyer spin.”
Amendola went on to say he heard from other attorneys who thought the interview was the right move.
Amendola then set up an interview with The New York Times for Sandusky to explain his side of the case. The Costas interview was discussed, and Sandusky said he was attracted to young people.
Amendola jumped in to clarify: “Yeah, but not sexually. You’re attracted to them, as in you like spending time (with them),” he’s heard saying in the background of a video of the interview.
‘The evidence he seeks’
Criticism also has been aimed at Amendola from the prosecution in the Sandusky case.
Lead prosecutor Joseph E. McGettigan III has accused Amendola of wasting time with pointless court hearings. McGettigan pointed to an April incident that involved a volatile news conference after a court appearance. Amendola maintained he was just trying to get information he felt he had a right to have before trial.
McGettigan has accused Amendola of trying the case in front of the media and always reserved what limited comments he would make until after he heard what Amendola had to say.
Before the judge imposed the gag order, the outgoing and always smiling Amendola would take to the front of the courthouse steps after court dates for impromptu news conferences, explaining what happened in the courtroom and calling on reporters by name.
In court filings, the prosecution blasted Amendola for including the names of the alleged victims in the case in subpoenas he sent to various parties requesting records for building his defense. Amendola followed the judge’s orders and gave a large-print notice that accompanied the subpoenas saying the names weren’t to be released to anyone else.
For all that criticism of the defense attorney, it was a prosecutor who released identifying information about some of the alleged victims in a court filing first made public then later sealed.
Attorneys for the alleged victims have criticized Amendola for going after their clients in his requests for records to discredit them at trial.
“The evidence he seeks from school records, labor records, etc., all inarguably go to reputation, which is not relevant or admissible in rape cases,” Michael Boni, the attorney representing the first alleged victim, said in May. “Talk about adding insult to injury. First the boy was raped, now Amendola seeks to besmirch Victim 1’s character in the press, no doubt to taint the jury pool. It’s all so wrong.”
‘No stone ... unturned’
A client of Amendola’s from a number of years ago called him an excellent defense attorney and an advocate. She was acquitted in her case, but wished that her name and references to her trial not be publicized again.
“If you tell him the truth, he will be able to effectively defend your case,” she said. “If you omit details or are unrealistic about your situation, well, good luck with the jury, because even Joe can’t perform magic tricks.”
In 2010 and 2011, Amendola defended former State College Area School District Superintendent Richard Mextorf in a DUI case in Clinton County. Mextorf eventually pleaded guilty and got 15 days of house arrest.
Among other local high-profile cases Amendola handled was the defense of Anthony Torsell, who is serving a five-year sentence for killing one pedestrian and permanently injuring another while driving drunk and speeding through downtown State College in 2006.
In 2006, Amendola defended defensive end Scott Paxson against charges of aggravated indecent assault and indecent assault stemming from allegations by a fellow student that he had unwanted sexual contact with her in December 2004 in his campus apartment. Paxson eventually agreed to a plea deal in which he paid a $300 fine for disorderly conduct.
Amendola also served on the defense team for Austin Scott, a running back charged in 2007 with raping and beating a woman inside his campus apartment on Oct. 5 of that year. The case against Scott was dropped on the eve of his trial in April 2008.
“I think he makes sure no stone is left unturned, which as a defense attorney you need to do,” said Ron McGlaughlin, a State College attorney.
McGlaughlin said while some attorneys use a “fire and brimstone” presentation, Amendola instead methodically points out the facts.
“He’s going to do everything absolutely necessary to set forth the best case he can on behalf of his clients,” said Ed Blanarik Jr., another State College attorney.
Blanarik described Amendola as meticulous and thorough when dissecting the evidence and questioning witnesses.
‘Let’s give it a try’
Amendola’s demeanor in court for Sandusky’s hearings so far has been nothing short of professional. He doesn’t raise his voice and he has been courteous to the judge and the other attorneys.
During a hearing in February, Amendola argued against the prosecution’s motion to bring in jurors from outside Centre County because of the emotional and economic connection local residents have to Penn State.
Amendola was firm in his opposition.
“I’ve been in this county for over 30 years,” Amendola told the judge, John Cleland. “We, to my knowledge, never had difficulty selecting 12 jurors.”
He added: “Penn State is not on trial. The football team is not on trial. The Second Mile is not on trial. Jerry Sandusky is on trial.”
And: “Let’s give it a try. Centre County deserves the first right to have the jury selected from this area to hear the Jerry Sandusky case.”
The judge later denied the prosecution’s request for the out-of-county jury, a victory for the defense.
Amendola has scored a mix of small victories, too, including successfully arguing to have Sandusky’s bail modified so he could see his grandchildren and subpoenaing school districts and other organizations for certain records pertaining to the alleged victims.
‘What an attorney would do’
But he has not been successful in getting Cleland to delay the trial.
Amendola asked the first time in February, again in early May and last week, saying he needs more time to review the mountains of documents and possible evidence to adequately prepare Sandusky’s defense.
Cleland, who’s been clear about his desire to keep the trial moving along swiftly, denied all three requests but did order a short delay that has the trial slated for jury selection on Tuesday.
And Amendola is still waiting for the judge to rule on defense motions to throw out charges related to three alleged victims that he argued lack sufficient evidence.
If Amendola’s recent actions about the delay may be any indication, he could be in panic mode. After the judge’s denial on Thursday, he appealed to the state’s Superior Court but got denied. He appealed then to the state’s Supreme Court, which hadn’t decided this weekend and could take it up today — on the eve of jury selection.
“I think he’s doing what an attorney would do — throw all the chairs and tables in front of a prosecutor to do everything he can to derail the train,” said Bryant, the attorney Amendola worked with in Philadelphia.
“Joe knows when to hold ’em, when to fold ’em,” Bryant said, referencing the Kenny Rogers song “The Gambler.” He “knows when to walk away, when to run.”
Mike Dawson can be reached at 231-4616. Follow him on Twitter @MikeDawsonCDT