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Attorney: It Could Take 'A Couple Years' Before Paterno Family Lawsuit Goes to Trial

by on June 03, 2013 10:40 AM

The Paternos' lawsuit is officially in the legal pipeline, and it could be there awhile. Paul Kelly, counsel to several participants in the lawsuit, said the timeline for this case could stretch anywhere from a year-and-a-half to three years. 

Kelly says he has been in contact with lawyers representing the NCAA in Washington, DC. According to Kelly, the NCAA lawyers have received the court documents which means the next step is already in motion. The NCAA has 30 days to respond to the initial complaint which was filed by 21 plaintiffs, including the Paterno family, on Thursday in Centre County Court.

The Pleading Phase

Kelly said there are a few options the defense could take; the first would be to file a response to the complaint. That would involve going through the lawsuit paragraph-by-paragraph and explaining why the NCAA disagrees with the Paterno's lawsuit. The NCAA could also try to remove the lawsuit from state court and move it to federal court.

Kelly says the most likely scenario is that the NCAA will file a motion to dismiss -- ask the judge to throw out the case. The NCAA has asked Judge Yevette Kane to do just that with Gov. Corbett's antitrust lawsuit. She has yet to rule on that motion.

Should the NCAA request the lawsuit be thrown out, that gives the plaintiffs their own chance to respond. Kelly said a hearing will be scheduled so a judge can hear arguments from both sides, in person, before making a decision. The judge may not make a ruling for a few weeks after the hearing, Kelly said, just like Kane is doing with the governor's lawsuit. 

Kelly said the pleading phase could take at least until October or November.

The Discovery Phase

During the discovery phase, which could last "at least a year for a case of this size," Kelly says, attorneys for both sides will request various documents and other materials as they investigate the legal claims. Those documents may end up being used at trial. This is also the phase where lawyers will issue subpoenas. 

The discovery phase is dependent on the lawsuit making it past the pleading phase and not getting thrown out, Kelly said. He believes the case will make it past the pleading phase. 

Other Options

Kelly said there's always the chance that the case could be resolved without going to trial – the parties could go to a mediator or an unaffiliated lawyer – but he's not putting a lot of stock in that at the moment. 

"It happens a lot," Kelly said, "This is a pretty significant case. There's a lot at stake." Kelly said short of the NCAA "coming to the table" with a willingness to at least negotiate Penn State's sanctions, at this point he sees the case ending up in a court room.

"You might expect the NCAA to want to get the case out of Centre County. They might say, 'Look, we can't get a fair jury in this part of the state. There are too many ties to the university, etc., and we would like to move it to Philadelphia or Pittsburgh,'" Kelly said. "Whether or not a court would permit that ... there are cases all over the map. The burden would be trying to move the case."

Kelly said it's more common for a case to be moved if the proceedings are criminal, not civil, as is the Paterno family's lawsuit. 

Read more:

Details About Paterno Family Lawsuit Emerge

Paterno Family and Supporters' Lawsuit Says NCAA Caused 'Significant Harm'

Penn State Football: Profiling the Former Nittany Lions in The Paterno Lawsuit

Laura Nichols is a news reporter and @LC_Nichols on Twitter.
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