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Corman Reflects on Two Years of Fighting the NCAA, Legal Costs Continue to Rise

by on January 06, 2015 6:00 AM

A lot can happen in two years.

Just ask Pennsylvania State Sen. Jake Corman, whose lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association has been steadily progressing in Commonwealth Court. 

“As my first venture into the legal system, I had no idea how long this process might take,” Corman says. “Most lawsuits start out with high expectations that are then brought down, but this has gone in the opposite direction.”

Corman, with the help of Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord, filed the lawsuit two years ago this week, on Jan. 4, 2013. Earlier, Corman led the charge in the state legislature to pass a law called the Endowment Act, requiring the NCAA to spend its $60 million fine against Penn State on child abuse prevention programs within Pennsylvania.

The NCAA imposed the fine on Penn State as part of package of severe sanctions in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. The NCAA wants to distribute its fine money nationally, and filed a lawsuit to that end in federal court shortly after Corman and McCord brought their own lawsuit.

Since the lawsuit is filed through Corman's and McCord's official capacity as state officials, Corman confirms that the lawsuit is funded by taxpayer money. Corman spokesperson Scott Sikorski says that, to date, the Pennsylvania Senate Republican Caucus has paid $268,129 dollars in costs related to the lawsuit, though that's only half of the total amount. The office of Treasurer Rob McCord has paid the other half, bringing the total so far to $536,258.

However, it appears there are additional fees that have not been paid yet.

Documents shared with StateCollege.com by activist Ryan Bagwell indicate that legal fees for work performed between January 2013 and October 2014 total more than $650,000. Invoices from the law firm of Conrad O'Brien, which represents Corman and McCord, were obtained through a Right-to-Know request from Bagwell, a university alumnus who operates the Penn State Sunshine Fund. Through the Sunshine Fund, Bagwell has made numerous other Right-to-Know requests for information related to the Sandusky scandal.

State College attorney James Rayback says it's almost impossible to estimate estimate how much a lawsuit like Corman's should cost because of its "phenomenally large" scale.

"This is some really massive-scale litigation," Rayback says. "A lot of hours of work have to go into something like this."

Corman says he’s received nothing but support from his constituents, many of whom are deeply and personally invested in the outcome. He plans to follow this process as long as it goes, including through any appeals, if needed. Corman's complaint also asks the court to force the NCAA to pay for the state's attorney fees and legal costs, which would eliminate the cost to the public if Corman and McCord are ultimately victorious.

The lawsuit currently sits at a curious legal intersection, in what’s known as the discovery phase, in which the parties share information and documents relevant to the case. Despite being in this early stage, Commonwealth Court Judge Anne Covey has already repeatedly upheld the constitutionality of the Endowment Act.

Covey has also shown a strict hand to the NCAA, reprimanding the athletic organization for “despicable… forum shopping” for trying to fight its battle in federal court instead of Commonwealth Court.

And now the lawsuit has come to mean even more.

“When the NCAA made their filing that the Endowment Act was unconstitutional and their bylaws allowed them to take the $60 million and spread it nationwide, the judge reviewed the bylaws,” Corman says. “She said there’s a new question: the NCAA’s whole ability to impose to consent decree to begin with.”

Penn State signed the consent decree with the NCAA in July 2012, allowing the NCAA to impose its fine and other sanctions. The other sanctions include severe reductions in football scholarships, the loss of all football wins between 1998 and 2012 and a recently-lifted ban on post-season bowl game appearances.

The validity of the consent decree will likely be under intense scrutiny when the trial begins on Feb. 17. Everyone from NCAA president Mark Emmert to former FBI Director Louis Freeh, and various university lawyers and members of the Penn State Board of Trustee are slated to appear.

The trial was originally scheduled to begin on Jan. 6, but Judge Covey delayed proceedings to allow herself more time to review several hundred documents in the case. Corman says he and his lawyers have dealt with a “frustrating lack of cooperation” in the discovery process of his lawsuit.

Corman and the NCAA have gone toe-to-toe in legal filings for months over what documents are relevant to the case and should be made available in the courtroom. The NCAA has invoked the legal tools of attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine to avoid releasing some internal emails and other documents, but Corman has repeatedly argued the NCAA is wrongly trying to keep relevant information out of the public eye.

Corman has requested that Judge Covey review the nearly 500 disputed documents herself to determine which, if any, are relevant to the case. She has agreed, though she has not issued a ruling yet.

Several court filings from the Corman side of the lawsuit have included hundreds of pages of internal NCAA emails and other documents that Corman received from the NCAA, many of which have caused a firestorm of media attention.

One filing in November contained internal emails between top NCAA officials from 2012, in which they refer to the threat of sanctions against Penn State as “a bluff” and question their authority to impose them. Another filing includes correspondence between the NCAA and the investigative team of Louis Freeh, which Corman suggests implies collaboration between the NCAA and Freeh's investigators. The Freeh report, released in July 2012, formed the basis of the NCAA’s sanctions by concluding that top Penn State administrators hid knowledge of Sandusky’s crimes from the public.

“With the fact that the Endowment Act has been ruled constitutional, we’ve already accomplished a lot,” Corman says. “We’ve been able to get a little bit of a look inside what happened at the NCAA when the consent decree was imposed, and a lot of questions have been raised about whether the NCAA manipulated the process and Penn State.”

Corman rejects claims that he is fighting his lawsuit in the press instead of the courtroom. He says the decision to release court documents to the public through his court filings is one that was forced by the NCAA. If the athletic organization had initially complied with his requests for documents, then he wouldn’t have been forced to release documents to demonstrate how important they are to the case, Corman says.

For Corman, the lawsuit is ultimately less about the NCAA’s fine, and more about one of the cornerstones of the American legal system. 

“A horrible thing happened and a predator preyed upon young boys, but he was afforded due process of law, sat before a jury of his peers, and was duly convicted … due process is very important,” Corman says. “For the NCAA to manipulate Penn State into accepting harsh sanctions without the facts of the case is not correct and consistent with our system.”

Representatives for the NCAA did not return requests for comment.

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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for StateCollege.com who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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