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Court Denies Freeh's Effort to Move Spanier Lawsuit Forward

by on July 01, 2014 10:47 AM

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has denied Louis Freeh's effort to move forward the defamation lawsuit former Penn State President Graham Spanier filed against him.

Freeh, a former FBI director, conducted an independent investigation into Penn State's handling of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky's child sexual abuse. Freeh's firm found that Spanier and other administrators allegedly covered up the abuse. Separately, authorities criminally charged Spanier and two other administrators for the alleged cover-up.

Spanier argues allegations in the Freeh report are false and defamatory and he asked the court to delay the defamation lawsuit again the Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan firm until the criminal case is resolved. Centre County Common Pleas Judge Jonathan Grine sided with Spanier and issued an order to delay the case.

Freeh appealed the delay to the Superior Court arguing in part a delay could potentially eliminate Freeh's option to have the lawsuit moved to federal court, which has a one-year deadline.

The court denied Freeh's appeal Monday arguing the matter meets only two of three factors and therefore technically the decision is out of the court's jurisdiction. The court only has jurisdiction over the matter if it meets all three criteria.

While the issue raised by Freeh is separate from Spanier's claims and is related to Freeh's right to have the case transferred to federal court, the stay "does not cut off Freeh Sporkin's federal right to remove this action to federal court." Instead, if Freeh decides to request the case be transferred to federal court once the stay ends, the Superior Court argues the federal court will be able to waive the one-year time requirement.

Specifically, the Superior Court says a federal court will consider waiving the one-year time requirement to have the case transferred as Freeh has several bad faith arguments against Spanier.

The bad faith arguments include Spanier not filing a complaint outlining Freeh's alleged offenses and Spanier filing a federal lawsuit against Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane to have the criminal charges dismissed, which overlaps with Spanier's criminal proceedings.

At the same time, the court noted the possible actions of bad faith were not under the court's consideration.

"We do not hold that Spanier is acting in bad faith by engaging in forum manipulation. That is a matter outside of our review, and a matter for the federal court to decide should Freeh Sporkin attempt to remove the case to federal court at a later date. We only hold that Freeh Sporkin have bad faith arguments to make in federal court should they choose to exercise their right of removal," the court says.

In his report, Freeh says Spanier and others, "repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse from the authorities, [PSU's] Board of Trustees, the Penn State community and the public at large."

Spanier's attorneys claim those allegations are both false and defamatory. They are asking for monetary damages.

Spanier, former Athletic Director Tim Curley and retired Senior Vice President for Finance Gary Schultz face several criminal charges including perjury, failing to report child endangerment and conspiracy related to the alleged Sandusky cover up. All three men have pleaded not guilty.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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