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Freeh Makes Case to Stop Delay in Spanier Defamation Lawsuit

by on April 01, 2014 10:17 AM

Louis Freeh – the target of former Penn State President Graham Spanier's defamation lawsuit – filed court papers late Monday arguing that a judge's decision to delay that lawsuit is a mistake.

Penn State hired Freeh to investigate the handling of the Sandusky scandal. Spanier claims he was defamed in the subsequent Freeh Report, which found that senior Penn State administrators intentionally covered up Sandusky's child sexual abuse.

Spanier and two other former Penn State administrators face several criminal charges including perjury, failing to report child endangerment and conspiracy related to the alleged Sandusky cover up.

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.

Heim outlined the following argument for why a delay in the case is not appropriate:

- The court wrongly assumed Spanier will invoke the Fifth Amendment to avoid self-incrimination during the proceeding. Additionally, the court wrongly concluded the case should be delayed because other witnesses may invoke the Fifth Amendment.

- The court failed to consider Freeh's right to have the case moved to federal court, which has a one-year statutory limitation.

- The court wrongly allowed Spanier to delay filing a specific complaint against Freeh in light of Spanier's pending criminal charges in the alleged cover up of child abuse. "(Freeh and his firm) know of no Pennsylvania authority that has permitted a civil plaintiff to avoid his obligation to file a complaint where he is a criminal defendant," the statement says.

- The court wrongly concluded that Spanier filing a specific complaint would expose Spanier to criminal liability.

- The court wrongly determined that Spanier's lawsuit overlaps with the criminal case "when the plaintiff has not filed a complaint in the case setting out his allegations and it is therefore not possible to make such a determination."

- The court failed to analyze the damage to the reputation of Freeh and Freeh's firm due to Spanier publicly accusing the parties of defamation, "but refusing to file a complaint setting forth the basis of his claims"

- The court wrongly determined that a delay in the case is appropriate because witnesses "are unlikely to forget important details."

The filing was the next step in the ongoing court battle. In February, Centre County Common Pleas Judge Jonathan Grine ruled the lawsuit filed by Spanier could be delayed until the resolution of Spanier's criminal case regarding an alleged cover up of Sandusky's abuse.

Grine said, "There is a substantial risk that ... any or all of these individuals could invoke their Fifth Amendment rights during the civil action and refuse to participate in the discovery process (of the lawsuit)."

Freeh's attorney, Robert Heim of Philadelphia, filed an emergency motion last week asking the judge to reconsider his decision to delay the case. Grine denied the request the following day without a hearing.

Heim then filed an appeal with the Superior Court of Pennsylvania in response to Grine's decision to delay Spanier's lawsuit. Subsequently, Grine ordered Heim to explain the appeal.

Heim's filing with the Centre County court Monday must also be submitted to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. The Superior Court has also asked Grine to file a response. At that point, the Superior Court will make a decision regarding the appeal.

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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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