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Court Orders Responses, Hearing in Spanier-Freeh Defamation Lawsuit

by on April 12, 2014 8:10 AM

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania is taking new action in the defamation lawsuit former Penn State President Graham Spanier filed against investigator Louis Freeh.

Spanier has been granted a delay, pending the outcome of his criminal trial.

But Freeh is challenging the delay. Freeh's attorneys say the lawsuit has damaged Freeh and his firm's reputation and a delay would only cause further damage.

The Superior Court's prothonotary office issued an order this week saying attorneys for Louis Freeh and his firm must file written briefs by April 22 after which Spanier's attorneys must file a written response by May 6.

The court also scheduled an argument panel for May 20 in Philadelphia.

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 that allegations in the Freeh report are false and defamatory and he asked the court to delay the defamation lawsuit 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. In response, Grine filed papers with the Superior Court reiterating why he believes a stay is appropriate in this case.

Freeh's attorneys say the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution should not be a factor in Grine's decision to delay the case because Spanier has not yet exercised that right. However, Grine argues that even though Spanier has not exercised his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, Spanier may exercise that right down the road -- therefore the case should be delayed until the criminal case is over.

Freeh's attorneys also say the delay eliminates defendants' opportunity to have the case moved to federal court, which has a one-year statutory limitation. However, Grine says defendants did not raise this issue initially. He points out that the federal court could make an exception to the one-year limit. Additionally, Grine argues that the plaintiff's Fifth Amendment right outweighs defendants' statutory rights.

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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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