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Civil-Rights Lawyers Ready to Target Penn State

on November 17, 2011 6:29 PM

Penn State itself -- and university leadership -- will likely face liability in the child-sexual-abuse scandal involving Jerry Sandusky, an emerging legal team said this week.

"There's no amount of money that could ever make these kids whole," said Andrew Shubin, a State College civil-rights attorney who assembled the legal team.

But anticipated civil lawsuits can help hold responsible any institutions that "failed these kids," Shubin said.

"Our team is prepared to aggressively pursue these cases and pursue the responsible parties, whether it be Penn State, local police forces, Children and Youth Services -- whoever is responsible," he went on. "School districts may have some liability here. We're going to pursue these cases aggressively and make sure that those who are responsible are held accountable."

Sandusky, a former football coach accused of child sexual abuse, was charged with 40 criminal counts earlier this month. State authorities have alleged he victimized eight boys over a 15-year period.

News reports suggest additional possible victims have stepped forward within the past two weeks.

Of the sex crimes alleged in a grand-jury report, many reportedly happened in or close to the State College area. Two alleged incidents receiving widespread public attention -- one involving a sodomy claim; the other, an oral-sex claim -- are reported to have happened on the University Park campus.

Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan has said the institutional culture at Penn State "did nothing to stop (the alleged abuse) or prevent it from happening to others." Two university administrators have been accused of lying about and helping to cover up allegations.

With that as a backdrop, Shubin told StateCollege.com, he has joined forces with Katz, Marshall and Banks -- a Washington, D.C., civil-rights firm -- and local attorney Justine Andronici. She specializes in civil rights, as well.

Shubin said the Sandusky matter involves "complicated constitutional issues" and demands "a thorough and probing investigation" -- one that his team will undertake.

The alleged victims, Shubin has said, can sue official entities "for violation of their constitutional rights." In a prepared statement, he said the U.S. Constitution "protects children from sexual abuse when a governmental entity is responsible for the harm they have suffered, as a grand jury found that Penn State officials were here."

Per a news release, Shubin and his colleagues have encouraged "anyone who experienced sexual abuse by Sandusky -- and who would like to explore the potential for recovering damages from Penn State and other officials for letting this happen -- to contact them."

Already, according to the Harrisburg Patriot-News, a number of apparent Sandusky victims have contacted the legal team. Several were prompted by an NBC broadcast interview that Sandusky granted earlier this week, according to the newspaper report.

David Marshall, a partner in Katz, Marshall and Banks, said "there is no way Penn State can avoid liability."

"As the grand jury reported, some of the highest officials at Penn State knew for years that Jerry Sandusky was sexually abusing defenseless children in the university's facilities -- and not a single one of them did anything to stop him," Marshall said in a news release. "In fact, by doing nothing, and by allowing him to use his affiliation with Penn State football to prey on vulnerable children, they deliberately turned their backs on these children and facilitated Sandusky's horrific crimes."

Penn State did not immediately respond to an inquiry concerning this news report. The university typically does not comment on matters of active litigation or potential litigation.

Sandusky has said repeatedly, including through his lawyer, Joe Amendola, that he is innocent of sexual misconduct.

Shubin, meanwhile, has said that his legal team "recognizes that this is, at its core, a local case."

"The kids are local. The crimes were committed locally," he said, "There's going to be a real need for ... contacts and commitment to the community on behalf of the attorneys prosecuting this case."

At the same time, Shubin continued, the "national-level" legal group brings experience with large civil-rights cases "and the resources to do what we need to do for these victims."

Penn State gave Sandusky "star power," Shubin said.

"And they gave it to him after they knew there were very serious accusations involving him raping a child in their locker" facilities, Shubin said. " ... We're going to be arguing that they created a danger for these kids."

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