District Judge: ‘Never Once’ Any Sign Paterno Tampered in Justice System
by Carmine W. Prestia Jr.
I’ve lived and worked in State College for the past 41 years: 25 with the State College Police Department, one year of retirement, and 15 years as a magisterial district judge. The events of the past few months have disturbed my family and me, just like they have everyone else.
A lot has been said, and there have been all kinds of opinions, accusations, and even a few facts offered. Usually, I should keep quiet because of my position, but I would be less of a man if I didn’t offer this.
First, the disclaimer: I’ve met Joe Paterno maybe three times in the past 41 years. I’ve met and talked to Sue a number of times, and she and my wife, Elaine, worked together at playschool and Our Lady of Victory Elementary School when our son Chris went there with the Paternos’ son Scott. Chris is still friends with Scott and his family.
When I went to Hershey Medical Center for bypass surgery, Scott and Heather invited Elaine there to stay at their home nearby for several nights to be near me. I even shoveled the snow off the Paternos’ walk a couple times when I moonlighted as a landscaper. I graduated from Penn State and still teach there in the Deputy Sheriff Academy.
We’ve heard a lot of accusations about Joe trying to protect the football players when they got in trouble, covering up for them. That’s not my experience!
Never once in my time as a police officer or judge has anyone in the football program asked me to cover up anything, withdraw a charge, or do something else unethical. I certainly saw a number of players get in trouble. Offenses ranged from simple summary offenses to felonies of the first degree.
The only thing that I remember about these situations was my friend Frank Rocco calling me at the police department on a Monday morning to inquire about a rumor he heard that some players had gotten in trouble. I would check and confirm the information, and Frank would say: “OK, Carm — I’ll tell Joe. Thank you.” Never once a request to do anything to cover up something.
As a judge, I also dealt with football players. Several years ago, a young man was brought into my court on a significant amount of unpaid warrants. As it turned out, he was a first- or second-string football player and had ignored a large number of parking offenses.
He had asked for a payment plan and defaulted several times, ignoring the court’s warnings. The police had picked him up and brought him before the court. I told him the “jig was up” and that he had to pay the fines or go to jail. There was a possibility he would miss the next game in one or two days. He asked to make a phone call.
Shortly thereafter, several young men from the football program showed up and asked what they could do for him. I said produce the fines and costs. After about a half hour, they returned with the money in hand. It was quite evident that they had taken up a collection amongst his friends.
I released him and left it to them to settle the debts. No coaches or administrators called to ask a favor. Never once.
In all those years, if Joe was trying to protect his players, covering up for them, why didn’t I hear or see anything? Where were these conspiracies? I know that legal problems pained and embarrassed all of the coaching staff, but the players had to deal with the consequences on their own.
I should have written this before Joe died. We always wait too long. Maybe the family and friends will get some comfort from my experience.
Someone had to say it: never once.
Editor’s note: Carmine W. Prestia Jr. is a district judge based in downtown State College.