Jerry Sandusky Scandal

Lawyers association chimes in on Paterno lawsuit

A group of lawyers is joining the fight against the Paterno family’s attempt to gain access to certain documents in court.

The Association of Corporate Counsel filed an amicus brief in Pennsylvania Superior Court on Friday, claiming an interest in defending attorney-client privilege.

The estate of longtime Nittany Lions football coach Joe Paterno, former trustee Al Clemens and former assistant coaches Bill Kenney and Jay Paterno are suing the NCAA, President Mark Emmert, former executive committee chairman Ed Ray and Penn State for breach of contract. The NCAA also is being sued for defamation, conspiracy, disparagement and contractual interference.

Discovery has been a stumbling block in the case. The Paternos have sought documents from Pepper Hamilton, the law firm that merged with that of former FBI director Louis Freeh, who was hired by the Penn State board of trustees to conduct an independent investigation of the Sandusky situation.

Penn State and Pepper Hamilton have objected to this, claiming attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine. The court ruled against them and the case is being appealed to the Superior Court.

That’s where the ACC comes in.

“Unless reversed, the court’s rulings ... will impede the ability of organizations and their counsel to rely on the attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine in internal investigations and to rigorously preserve those protections in ensuing litigation in the commonwealth,” association attorney Burt Rublin wrote.

The ACC represents more than 35,000 in-house lawyers employed by about 10,000 organizations including universities thoughout the country. There are three chapters and 1,600 members in Pennsylvania.

“The need to protect open communication between organizations and their counsel is more critical today than ever before,” Rublin wrote. “Corporations and other organizations, including universities, are subject to an ever-increasing array of criminal securities, tax, labor, financial, health care, environmental, trade and other laws and regulations.”

The document calls Potter County Senior Judge John Leete’s ruling that the hiring of Freeh was not for legal purposes “manifestly wrong.”

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