Centre County judges’ affiliations with Penn State and The Second Mile will keep them off the bench when it comes to presiding over civil cases filed in the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
In all, there are three cases for which county officials need an out-of-county judge and possibly a fourth, if former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary goes through with a whistleblower lawsuit against the university.
The number of cases could grow. Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of molesting boys he met through The Second Mile, and attorneys representing the victims are expected to file civil lawsuits.
On Wednesday, county Judge Jonathan Grine recused himself from presiding over one of three — The Second Mile’s request to transfer its assets and programs for children to a Texas organization and shut down for good. Grine cited a “conflict of interest,” said Maxine Ishler, the county’s court administrator.
Next week, the state court system is expected to assign an out-of-county judge to that case as well as the one in which former Penn State President Graham Spanier sued Penn State to get access to his old emails. In the suit, Spanier said he’s been denied access to the emails and needs to read them before he meets with the university’s third-party investigative team.
A judge from Venango County, H. William White, has already been assigned to preside over the lawsuit Penn State filed in February against an insurance company, Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association Insurance Co. In January, the insurance company filed suit in Philadelphia against Penn State and The Second Mile to get out of paying for costs from a civil lawsuit filed by a man identified as John Doe.
Progress in that case is on hold as there’s a motion to transfer the case filed in Centre County to Philadelphia.
Grine’s recusal from The Second Mile case came a day after three victims in the Sandusky case objected to the charity’s petition on the grounds it could be liable to pay out more money from current and future lawsuits than what it has in assets. A fourth man in the suit, John Doe A, was not one of the victims in the Sandusky criminal case but he did file a civil suit in Philadelphia.
Grine wasn’t on the bench in November when the county’s judges — his father, David Grine, Thomas King Kistler, Bradley P. Lunsford and Pamela A. Ruest — recused themselves from the criminal case and the state Supreme Court appointed Senior Judge John Cleland from McKean County to preside. Jonathan Grine was elected to a judge’s position in November and in January was sworn in.
Cleland made many trips from his hometown of Kane in northwestern Pennsylvania to Bellefonte for court proceedings over the past seven months, ending Friday with Sandusky’s conviction.
Ishler, the county court administrator, said the county would seek an out-of-county judge for Mc- Queary’s lawsuit if he files a formal complaint. So far, McQueary has only filed a notice that he intends to lodge a whistleblower lawsuit against Penn State.
McQueary testified at Sandusky’s trial that he filed the notice on the 180th day after he was placed on administrative leave from his job as wide receivers coach. He had 180 days to do so to preserve his right to sue. He also testified he wants his old job back.
Ishler said the local judges want to avoid the notion of impropriety because of their connections with The Second Mile or Penn State.
State court spokesman Jim Koval said having judges come from outside Centre County shouldn’t have an effect on the case proceeding through the court. He said he doubted one judge would be assigned to all of them, because that could slow them all down.
The senior judges who are assigned are retired from their home counties and receive daily pay rates.
Mike Dawson can be reached at 231-4616. Follow him on Twitter @MikeDawsonCDT