Football, Sex Scandals, Sports

Joe Paterno Better Lawyer Up

If they hanged Joe Paterno from a tree and gave little boys a bat and said “whack that man like a piñata,” it probably wouldn’t hurt as much as what’s actually about to happen to JoePa.

Because while the former head coach of the Penn State football team has escaped criminal penalty in the Jerry Sandusky scandal, civil liability will be a whole different ballgame.

Penn State is going to be hit with so many civil suits over this mess that the only mirth in Happy Valley will belong to the lawyers. The only people who should be standing on Paterno’s lawn are attorneys on retainer. Things are going to get so ugly for the old football coach — and everybody on his staff, and pretty much every university official — than he can’t possibly fully appreciate it. I just hope he’s more prepared for his depositions than his press conferences.

Obviously, we don’t yet have all the facts. But just looking at the Grand Jury report should tell you that civil actions are coming….

You should read the grand jury report (available here, courtesy of CBS) to get a sense of just how serious this scandal is. Paterno was allegedly told that Sandusky was caught having anal sex with a ten-year-old in a shower. The coach did what he was supposed to do after that, from a criminal standpoint.

From a civil standpoint, the coach may have already admitted liability. From the New York Daily News:

According to New York defense and civil rights attorney Tom Harvey, Paterno’s lack of action in enforcing a ban on Sandusky bringing children onto the campus, as well Paterno’s admission that he should have “done more,” opened the door for massive litigation by the victims of the alleged sexual abuse by Sandusky…

“As far as civil liability, Joe Paterno will almost certainly be named as a defendant in the expected slew of victim lawsuits that will be filed in the coming months,” Harvey told the Daily News. “The issue will be what duty, if any, Paterno had with respect to protecting the minors that were allegedly abused on campus by Sandusky, a former Penn State employee who apparently had access to the football facilities and locker room. Did Paterno have a special duty to warn or protect these minors, especially after he became aware that there are allegations against Sandusky?”

It’s not so much about a “special duty” because Paterno is a famous football coach. It’s about the ordinary duty Paterno and others at Penn State have to prevent known sexual predators from succeeding. We don’t yet have all the facts about what Paterno knew, and when he knew it, and what he did about it. But we’re going to. That’s what discovery is for.

And the liability for Penn State might not just come from victims. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is also making noises about a Department of Education investigation.From the AP:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement that schools and school officials have a legal and moral responsibility to protect children and young people from violence and abuse.

“If these allegations of sexual abuse are true, then this is a horrible tragedy for those young boys,” Duncan said. “If it turns out that some people at the school knew of the abuse and did nothing or covered it up, that makes it even worse.”

Joe Paterno isn’t going to need a lawyer. He’s going to need an entire law firm.

It’s not clear to me that the Penn State students rallying outside of Joe Paterno’s house appreciate the scope of what happens next. If these allegations against Sandusky are true and Paterno and Penn State did nothing worse than what we already know, there is going to be a large settlement for civil damages with the victims and their families.

What do you think the chances are that further fact development will make Penn State look better if all of these charges against Sandusky hold merit? What do you think will happen if Sandusky pleads and then starts talking about all the people who didn’t stop him?

These aren’t the darkest days for PSU and Joe Paterno. The abyss still lies in front of them.

Joe Paterno will likely be named a defendant in Penn State sex abuse scandal [Daily News]
Ed Dept. investigating Penn State sex abuse case [Associated Press]

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