While it was the charges, testimony and trial against a former Penn State football coach that drew national attention, what happened outside the Centre County courtroom spun its own stories, too.
Jerry Sandusky’s defense team became known for not only defending him, but for how their roles stretched to interviews, press conferences and late nights out with reporters.
Wes Oliver, a law professor who sat through the two-week trial, said the case highlights an issue that hasn’t received much attention in the past — the potential conflict of interest of a lawyer representing his client’s interests and his own.
“I have never heard of a case where a lawyer, seemingly in the interest of advancing his own media opportunities, has clearly acted so contrary to a client’s interests,” said Oliver, law professor at Duquesne University.
Sandusky’s defense lawyers defended their out-of-courtroom behavior. Amendola dismissed the idea that self-promotion was the motivation behind his media-friendly approach.
“I have interacted with the media over the past 11 plus months for the sole purpose of informing the media and the public that Jerry has always maintained his innocence regarding the charges filed against him and wanted to prove his innocence,” said Amendola, who’s had his fair share of high-profile cases in Centre County. “For every media contact I had, I turned down about 25 other requests.”
On a frigid December day last year, Amendola infamously talked at length with reporters after the preliminary hearing Sandusky waived. Amendola said anyone who believed what Mike McQueary told authorities should call 1-800-Reality, a number that turned out to be a gay men’s sex line. Later, he had Sandusky interviewed over the telephone by Bob Costas on “Rock Center with Brian Williams,” during which the former Penn State coach stumbled over a question about whether he was attracted to young boys.
Sandusky’s other attorney, Karl Rominger, ended up in the spotlight for different reasons, in particular a penchant for socializing with members of the media after hours.
The jury found Sandusky guilty of 45 counts of child sexual abuse after eight young men testified about being abused by the former defensive coach.
Speaking at a recent law forum, Oliver detailed the interviews Amendola gave outside the courtroom — from a party for national media he hosted at his house before the gag order in the case to joking on CNN about whether the reporter would be “somebody cute” after the verdict was handed down — and the nights Rominger spent in downtown State College while the trial was under way. The case, he said, shows why allowing cameras in the courtroom — something that’s not permitted for criminal cases in Pennsylvania — is a bad idea.
Oliver said that when the cameras went on, Amendola became a different person. Inside the courtroom, he “did a masterful job in many, if not all, of these cross-examinations.”
His closing argument, Oliver said, “was spectacular given what he had to work with.”
Outside the courtroom though — where the cameras can roll — was a different story.
“There’s no strategic basis for saying on CNN, ‘Is it going to be someone cute?’ ” Oliver said.
Amendola disputed the idea that he was putting himself first.
“I can’t think of one instance in my contacts with the media in which I promoted my own self interests or my law practice,” he said. “I will continue to interact with the media on Jerry’s behalf as we actively pursue a reversal of his convictions and a new trial for him.”
Rominger came under fire in particular for going out to bars the night before sentencing — an evening chronicled on Twitter and picked up on Deadspin, including a tweet from Rominger, “coeds appreciated.”
“Obviously it was partly an inside joke,” Rominger told the Centre Daily Times last week. “This was the same group of men I had gathered with frequently during the trial at Zeno’s.”
“The ‘Coeds appreciated’ was meant as a funny thing, and it turned out to be somehow controversial. I followed up quickly with a tweet: ‘Just kidding about the co-eds thing.’ And not a day later. Not an hour later. Right away.”
Rominger cited a difference between “sophisticated users of Twitter and Facebook and those who maybe don’t get it.”
“Things are not always meant to be taken grievously seriously. And older users might not be as comfortable with humor on the Internet,” he said.
But Oliver said Rominger’s behavior was problematic in the courtroom as well as out of it. Rominger, he said, missed the opportunity to point out the inconsistencies in the testimony of Mike McQueary, the former Penn State coach who walked in on Sandusky naked in a campus shower with a boy. Details of McQueary’s testimony have varied, including the date of the incident.
“There was a lot of fodder for cross-examination,” Oliver said, pointing to the date of the incident and what McQueary heard and whether it was consistent with sexual behavior.
He also pointed to his questioning of John McQueary, the father of Mike McQueary. John McQueary had testified at a separate hearing in Dauphin County. When Rominger asked John McQueary about that, he looked perplexed and said he didn’t remember testifying.
“Rominger did not know how to cross-examine him as a matter of a procedure,” Oliver said.
Outside the courtroom, Rominger has gained a Twitter following — 1,153 as of Friday — along with a few critics.
“Some people would say because of the seriousness of the Sandusky sentencing that you can’t have a good time. I was done working for the day. We were prepared for the next day. Wanting to have a little fun in my life is not the same dichotomy,” Rominger said of going out the night before sentencing.
“Would I do it again? Yeah, I would do it again. But I would put the ‘just kidding’ comment in there right away,” he said of his “coeds appreciated” tweet.
“The plus side is I’ve picked up a lot more Twitter followers,” he said.
Rominger and Amendola, along with a new Sandusky attorney, have since filed motions to have the convictions thrown out or get a new trial. Sandusky is in Centre County prison awaiting a transfer to the Camp Hill prison for evaluation.