Judge Issues Split Decision in Paterno Lawsuit Against NCAA
A Centre County judge issued a split decision Tuesday allowing parts of the Paterno's family lawsuit against the NCAA to move forward.
The NCAA had asked the courts to dismiss the lawsuit.
The Paterno family is joined in the lawsuit by several members of the Penn State Board of Trustees, former Nittany Lion football players, and university faculty members. The suit asked to have the consent decree Penn State signed overturned. The consent decree allowed the NCAA to impose unprecedented sanctions against Penn State's football program. The sanctions, imposed in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal include a reduction in football scholarships, a ban on bowl appearances, and the vacating of 111 wins under former coach Joe Paterno.
The judge ruled that Penn State is an indispensable party, meaning the consent decree cannot be challenged unless Penn State is a party to the lawsuit.
The NCAA's Chief Legal Officer, Donald Remy, said in a prepared statement, "We are exceedingly pleased that the court rejected the plaintiffs' effort to undo the consent decree. As this was the last remaining legal challenge to the validity of the consent decree, we hope the court's decision finally brings closure to this issue and allows the Penn State community to continue to move forward under the consent decree and the Athletic Integrity Agreement."
Dan McGinn, a Paterno Family spokesperson, says the most important aspect in Senior Judge John Leete's ruling is that the suit moves forward forcing discovery of all documents related to the NCAA's sanctions on Penn State.
McGinn says that includes NCAA internal email exchanges and communications with Louis Freeh, the former FBI director who investigated Penn State's handling of the Sandusky scandal.
"This just leveled the playing field for the first time and this means that the secret dealings ... the backdoor conversations are all going to have to come to light now," says McGinn. "Now people are going to find out exactly what happened ... All of that was done in panic and secrecy and now it's going to come to light."
The fact that the case is moving forward also means NCAA officials will "have to explain under oath what they did. Now everybody's going to see what exactly happened. That's why this is tremendously significant," says McGinn.
The judge also ruled that some of those taking part in the suit may pursue claims that they were defamed in statements made by the NCAA. According to the plaintiffs, those statements said the board of trustees did not perform its oversight duties and some coachesand administrators and coaching staff ignored red flags to enable a sexual predator to attract and abuse victims.
The NCAA says the allegations "entirely lack merit and will ultimately fail."
"Some plaintiffs have insisted that this case is not about money damages, so they may decline to pursue those remaining claims," says Remy.
The judge also ruled there is enough evidence to move forward with the claim that Joe Paterno's estate suffered commercial disparagement. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs say the NCAA made damaging statements about Paterno, including that he failed to protect against a child sexual predator.
"Plaintiffs have at least a possibility of recovery based on commercialized interest in Paterno's responsibility and reputation as a football coach," the judge states.
When reached by phone, Scott Paterno declined to comment. However, he shared many thoughts about the ruling on Twitter.
@LColorito appreciate it. Freeh and the NCAA trashed all of us - Penn State, State College, my father - unjustifiably. That will not stand.
— Scott Paterno (@ScottPaterno) January 8, 2014