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True Facts in Penn State Sandusky Child Abuse Scandal Could be Revealed Through Victims' Lawsuits

Nov 18, 2011 | Parker Waichman LLP

With so many questions unanswered in the Jerry Sandusky Penn State child sexual abuse scandal, civil lawsuits may be the only way the full truth will ever come to light.  According to a report from the Associated Press, the University, former head coach Joe Paterno and others involved in the Sandusky debacle could all face varying legal problems in civil court, depending on the evidence produced during discovery.  

In civil litigation, discovery generates much more information than in a criminal trial, because defendants are not guaranteed a right against self incrimination.  The broad discovery rules could reveal more about what Paterno and others at Penn State knew about Sandusky's alleged conduct, and exactly when they knew it. 

Penn State already seems to be bracing for the coming legal onslaught.  According to the Associated Press, the university Board of Trustees has hired a high-powered Pittsburgh law firm.  But some legal experts contend that, considering the types of damning information that could be revealed by civil discovery, Penn State might be willing to discuss settlement with alleged Sandusky victims to avoid going to court.

"You're going to see everybody pointing at somebody else to try and get themselves out of it,", a Philadelphia lawyer who has who has represented victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic Priests, told the Associated Press. "When you've got 19, 20 kids coming out, saying 'He did it, he did it,' I don't understand why anyone at Penn State in their right mind would say, 'Let's fight this."

"New facts are going to come out, I'm sure, in the civil litigation," a second attorney said. "It's one of the reasons that Penn State and the other potential defendants may decide to do whatever they can to prevent that from happening, and people going under oath. It's very dangerous."

Sandusky, a former assistant coach at Penn State, was indicted earlier this month on charges that he sexually abused 8 children over a period of 8 years.  Two former Penn State officials were also arrested on charges of perjury and for failing to report on alleged incident of abuse that occurred on the university's main campus to authorities.  Paterno, who served as Penn State head football coach for 46 years, was fired by the Board of Trustees last Wednesday, as was university president Graham Spanier.

According to a grand jury report released by Pennsylvania investigators earlier this week, Paterno, 84, heard a graphic retelling in 2002 from a then-graduate assistant coach of an alleged incident of child sexual abuse committed by Sandusky in the shower of the Penn State football building.  Though Paterno reported the allegation to his superiors, he did not pursue the matter further.  Those superiors spoke to Sandusky, and banned him from bringing children onto the Penn State main campus (though Sandusky himself was not banned from campus, and he was also allowed to run a youth football camp at a satellite campus for another six years).

Sandusky came into contact with the children through his Second Mile Foundation charity, and some of the alleged abuse incidents occurred on the Penn State campus.

Pennsylvania state law enforcement officials said that while Paterno had met his legal obligation in alerting his superiors, he failed on a moral level by not doing more.  The same officials also charged that inaction on the part of Penn State University allowed more children to become victims of abuse at the hands of Sandusky.

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