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Penn State Wants Depositions Stopped in Trustee Lawsuit

by on July 30, 2014 1:25 PM

Attorneys for Penn State appeared in court Tuesday to ask a Centre County judge to stop former state representative Jess Stairs from conducting depositions for his lawsuit over a contested board of trustees election.

Judge Pamela Ruest did not rule from the bench following the hearing. Stairs' attorney Dean Piermattei expects a decision in about two weeks.

Penn State will be allowed to file an additional brief, to which Piermattei can respond before Ruest's ruling is handed down.

Stairs was a candidate for a board of trustees seat that was elected by members of various agricultural societies. He lost by one vote in May and is challenging that result with Penn State administrators. After losing to incumbent Betsy Huber, Stairs questioned votes cast by the Venango County delegation that represents agricultural societies.

He argues the three Venango delegates improperly cast their votes, costing him the election. He filed an intent to sue Huber and board chairman Keith Masser over what his attorneys called a "mishandled" election.

Attorneys for Stairs delivered subpoenas to the three Venango delegates this month. Penn State responded with an emergency motion asking a judge to stop the depositions because the suit was filed in the wrong court.

Piermattei says Penn State argued the lawsuit should have been filed in orphans court given the university's status as a non-profit institution. Attorneys for Stairs cited several similar cases where lawsuits were filed in regular court.

This is all part of Penn State's tactic, Piermattei says, to delay the case as long as possible. Every day that passes brings more prejudice against his client, Piermattei says.

"I'd like to see Penn State's motion dismissed," Piermattei says. "We are seeking to learn the truth with what happened during the election. Mr. Stairs needs to start his term. Every day this is delayed, he loses a day he should have as a board member."

Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers says the university's legal filings stand on their own. She provided no additional comment.

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Jessica Tully recently graduated from Penn State with degrees in journalism and political science. She is a frequent contributor to StateCollege.com and has also reported for USA TODAY, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Onward State and The Daily Collegian.
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