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Judge Nears Decision on Jurisdiction of Spanier v. Freeh Lawsuit

by on November 17, 2014 1:05 PM

The battle over where Graham Spanier’s defamation lawsuit against Louis Freeh will be heard is nearly over.

On Friday, attorneys for the former Penn State president and the former FBI director debated whether the case should be heard in federal or state court in front of federal judge Malachy Mannion.

Spanier announced his intention to sue Freeh for alleged defamation in Centre County Court last year. Spanier argues the Freeh Report – which was released in 2012 and concludes that top Penn State officials covered up the Sandusky scandal – makes false claims that have damaged his reputation.

Freeh, in response, has been trying to move the case to federal court, arguing the Centre County Court doesn’t have proper jurisdiction because he is not a citizen of Pennsylvania.

Michael Kichline, an attorney for Freeh, says Freeh had a one year-deadline to file for the move to federal court. The deadline expired in July of this year, the same month Freeh filed to move the lawsuit.

Elizabeth Locke, an attorney for Spanier, argues this move was improper because Spanier has not actually filed his lawsuit yet. Spanier faces criminal charges in Dauphin County Court related to the alleged cover up of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. Because he has a fifth amendment right not to incriminate himself, Spanier has not yet filed the complaint that will detail his claims against Freeh.

Locke says that once that complaint is filed, Freeh will have 30 days to move the case to federal court. Since Spanier has only filed a “writ of summons” and not a complaint, Locke says Freeh’s attempts to move the lawsuit out of Centre County are improper.

Kichline disagrees, and says there are conflicting rulings from different courts about when the deadline to remove a case begins. Freeh’s attempts to move the lawsuit to federal court were a safety measure to ensure he was not later denied his right to do so, Kichline says.

“We removed this case to federal court on diversity jurisdiction grounds,” Kichline says. “The whole purpose behind diversity jurisdiction is to ensure that those who are citizens of other states are not subject to prejudice in local state courts.”

Kichline says attorneys for Spanier also argued that the case should be heard in state court because Freeh’s law firm – Freeh, Sporkin and Sullivan – has partners based in Pennsylvania. Kichline says the partner at the law firm who was a Pennsylvania resident is no longer employed, making this a moot point.

Attorneys for both sides expressed confidence in their cases, and say they are not sure when Judge Mannion will issue a ruling on where the case should be heard.

A trial date has not yet been set in Spanier's criminal case. Two other former Penn State administrators -- Tim Curley and Gary Schultz -- also face similar charges of alleged perjury and conspiracy in Dauphin County Court. All three men have pleaded not guilty.

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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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