In court documents filed Wednesday, the NCAA said the reason the estate of former Nittany Lions head coach Joe Paterno wants to modify a protective order in its lawsuit is to try the case in the media.
The estate is suing the NCAA and the university for breach of contract. The NCAA is also being sued for tortious interference, defamation, disparagement and conspiracy.
The plaintiffs, including trustee Al Clemens and former assistant coaches Bill Kenney and Jay Paterno, submitted a motion in November asking that the order that prevents the sides from publicly disclosing information from discovery documents be lifted in light of the deluge of documents being released in other cases that came out of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
The NCAA called the motion “a clear request to disclose select pre-trial materials to influence public opinion and have this case decided in the media before it ever reaches a finder of fact.”
In the Commonwealth Court suit brought by state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, and Treasurer Rob McCord, the flurry of documents released on both sides has included huge stacks of emails and pages and pages of deposition testimony.
The information has proved incendiary, including revelations that the NCAA may have attempted to “bluff” Penn State into accepting the consent decree that paved the way to a $60 million fine, five years’ probation, four-year postseason ban, scholarship restrictions and the erasing of 111 football victories under Paterno. That document has led to concerns raised by everyone from fans to Old Main to Congress.
And that, the NCAA says, is the point.
“Indeed, the recent media attention (in that case) demonstrates precisely why” the order is needed, attorney Thomas Scott, of the Harrisburg law firm Killian and Gephart LLP, wrote. “The NCAA stands by its actions in entering into the consent decree with Penn State and a complete and impartial review of all facts will overwhelmingly demonstrate the propriety of its actions. But plaintiffs’ apparent desire to engage in pre-trial spin and mischaracterization will make such a review impossible.”
The “bluffing” email was “taken out of context, irrelevant to the filing and then twisted in the media by the Corman plaintiffs,” Scott wrote, saying news organizations “seized on the emails” to capture public attention, calling Corman and McCord’s strategy “prejudicial.”
Scott also cited the dangers of “additional tainting of a potential jury” in his opposition.
And he dismissed the fact that the NCAA had also released documents, saying it was done to “correct the record” and that they were the NCAA’s own documents.
About an hour after the NCAA’s response was filed, Centre County Judge Pamela A. Ruest issued an order on behalf of Senior Judge John Leete, of Potter County, ordering oral arguments on “all outstanding matters” in the case for Jan. 5.